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14 December 8:27 de la tarde

First of all, go ahead and bookmark this site right here: CLICK ME! It's an invaluable resource for anybody who cares about US soccer in general, and the US Open Cup in particular.

And if you don't care about the US Open Cup ... what the hell is wrong with you? It's one of the world's oldest tournaments, features huge upsets pretty much ever year, and is a breeding ground for future MLS stars. Yeah, the MLS Cup and Supporters' Shield may get your juices flowing a little more, but a cup's a cup. Anybody should be ecstatic to win one.

And it looks like, in 2013, the Sounders will have two shots to get back to the mountain top.

Not only are the big boy Sounders automatically drawn into the competition (along with the other 15 US-based MLS teams), but the Sounders U-23s have earned themselves a spot as well. There's no official announcement as of yet (US Soccer tends to take its time with USOC-related stuff), but according to TheCup.us' sources, Seattle's U-23s are in it by virtue of a first-place finish in the PDL's Northwest Division.

Second in the Northwest Division, by the way? That'd be the Portland Timbers U-23s, who are in the Cup (announcement pending!) for the second straight year.

So it looks like we could have two separate cases of fratricide, should the brackets work out just so. And should Cal FC not crash the party this time around.

EDIT: And our good friends at SounderAtHeart just sent us this:

So yeah, US Soccer may not have confirmed yet. But this one sure looks like it's good to go.

14 December 7:38 de la tarde

The "As the Beckham Turns" soap opera took its latest twist on Friday with the former LA Galaxy star apparently shutting the door on a reported move to Australia.

Perth Glory owner Tony Sage told the A-League's official website that he ran into Beckham in London during a performance of the Spice Girls' new stage musical (obviously) and — let's give the man some credit — had the stones to corner him with the Big Question.

"I got the chance to chat to David and, of course, I asked him about coming to Australia," Sage told footballaustralia.com.au. "He looked me in the eye and basically said, 'That would be nice, but it's too far away from my businesses.'"

The former England captain and two-time MLS Cup winner had been linked to Perth, while rival A-League clubs Melbourne Heart and Central Coast Mariners also expressed interest in bringing the 37-year-old Down Under. But Sage doesn't see any of that working out.

"It would have been great to have him at Perth Glory, but it looks like that won't be happening," he said. "I just don't think he'll be coming to Australia, full stop."

So where to, Becks? Those reports of a return to England — or France, or China or the Middle East — are all still floating around.

14 December 6:17 de la tarde

servilleta messi

Antes que nada, ¡feliz cumpleaños Servilleta!

Y lo pongo cual nombre propio, porque ese cuadrado de papel inventado por Arthur Scott lo merece. El 14 de diciembre del año 2000, una servilleta fue el primero de los compromisos contractuales del FC Barcelona, con uno de los jugadores más brillantes que jamás haya vestido esa camiseta, Lionel Messi.

Hoy hace exactamente doce años Carles Rexach, por entonces director deportivo del club catalán, se reunió con Miguella y Horacio Gaggioli, representantes de jugadores, para comprometerse en nombre del Barcelona para firmar al pequeño jugador argentino de 13 años.

Messi se había probado en La Masía meses antes, y había dejado una impresión favorable ante los ojos del club. Sin embargo, su tamaño fue una traba que se puso en un comienzo por parte de la dirigencia encabezada por Joan Gaspart, por entonces recién nombrado presidente del Barça, quien tenía como objetivo firmar a un futbolista de renombre para remplazar a Figo.

Cuando varios clubes escucharon acerca del pequeño futbolista maravilla, se empezaron a interesar por sus servicios, por lo cual Rexach se comprometió a pagar por su tratamiento hormonal y llevarlo al Barcelona.

"En Barcelona, a 14 de Diciembre del 2000 y en presencia de los Sres. Minguella y Horacio (Gaggioli), Carles Rexach, Secretario Técnico del F.C.B., se compromete bajo su responsabilidad y a pesar de algunas opiniones en contra a fichar al jugador Lionel Messi siempre y cuando nos mantengamos en las cantidades acordadas", reza el papel que se conoce como el 'primer contrato' de Lionel Messi.

¡Feliz cumpleaños Servilleta! Y feliz aniversario al Barça, por seguirle la corriente a Rexach, y permitirnos disfrutar de la magia de Lio.

14 December 4:41 de la tarde

Les bilans de l’année club par club se poursuivent à la vitesse de l’éclair, alors il est à nouveau temps de vous en offrir quelques résumés.

Pour sa deuxième saison en MLS, Vancouver a trouvé une stabilité défensive et a commencé fort, accumulant un viatique qui lui a permis de se qualifier pour la phase finale malgré une deuxième moitié de championnat catastrophique. Et pour cause : de manière incompréhensible, le club a laissé partir plusieurs joueurs clefs. Pour Martin Rennie, l’explication est davantage psychologique que sportive. Oserait-il commencer 2013 avec le groupe qui a fini 2012 ? Pas sûr…

Modèle inverse à Houston qui, jusqu’en juin, a confirmé que sa place en finale de la Coupe MLS 2011 était peut-être usurpée. Mais tout a changé avec l’ouverture du BBVA Compass Stadium, l’éclosion de Will Bruin, l’arrivée de Boniek Garcia et le passage au 4-3-3. Les Texans ont fait oublier leur réputation d’équipe ennuyeuse et ont atteint, méritoirement cette fois, leur deuxième finale consécutive. Et les perspectives sont excellentes, puisque tous les titulaires sont sous contrat pour l’an prochain.

En début de saison, Chicago était optimiste sans toutefois savoir vraiment comment il allait réussir sa saison. Malgré le départ de joueurs clefs, comme Pappa, le présage s’est doublement vérifié, notamment grâce à un recrutement bien mené tant en hiver qu’en été. Les arrivées de Berry, Freidrich, Rolfe, Fernandez et MacDonald ont amélioré l’équipe néanmoins encore un peu courte pour jouer le top. Des automatismes améliorés l’an prochain suffiront-ils ?

Seattle a vécu sa première saison sans trophée depuis son passage en MLS. Les supporters en veulent davantage mais ont été plus de 96% à voter pour que le directeur général Adrian Hanauer reste en place. Bien que déçu des résultats, Sigi Schmid pense que l’équipe a progressé. C’est vrai que par moments, Seattle a montré du jeu de très haut niveau, encore relevé par le retour réussi d’Eddie Johnson : pour 2013, les ambitions peuvent être élevées… et les attentes aussi !

Je recommencerai cet exercice à quelques reprises dans les prochains jours jusqu’à ce que le tour d’horizon de tous les clubs soit terminé. Rendez-vous ici pour retrouver sur la même page un lien vers tous les textes et les dates de parution des prochains bilans.

13 December 8:16 de la tarde

Chivas USA a un nouvel entraîneur : José Luis Sánchez Solá, alias Chelis. Ce sera sa première expérience en la matière en dehors du Mexique. Il a commencé sa carrière à Pubela, en 2006, où il a été renvoyé plusieurs fois… avant que le club ne lui demande de se remplacer lui-même, à l’insistance des joueurs !

Ça en dit déjà beaucoup sur cet entraîneur truculent, qui a même fait une apparition dans une publicité du Parti révolutionnaire institutionnel, le parti de l’actuel président mexicain Enrique Peña Nieto.

Chelis aura intérêt à obtenir rapidement des résultats avec Chivas USA, faute de quoi ce sera lui et non ses joueurs que les caméras suivront pour voir du spectacle. La vidéo ci-dessous, datant de 2008 sur la chaîne TV Azteca, nous promet en tout cas beaucoup d’animation sur le bord du terrain… Je dois dire que son amour pour les poteaux de corner me plaît déjà particulièrement.

13 December 6:48 de la tarde

Merritt Paulson started hyping it earlier this week, but not until today were we treated to the unveiling of both the club name and crest for the new women's pro team in Portland. 

Portland Thorns FC. It's certainly no CD Aguiluchos, but then again, what is? 

What are your thoughts on the name and crest? Drop 'em in the comments below. 

13 December 1:24 de la tarde

All MLS fans are familiar with the feelings Rafa Márquez elicits. He couldn't help his team win, he undermined them in crucial moments. Most people would say he wasn't worth his Designated Player status.

But that's all over now. Rafa is on his way back to Mexico, after negotiating his release from the Red Bulls and signing a two-year deal with Club León on Thursday that officially ends his tumultuous two-and-a-half seasons with the New York Red Bulls that yielded no trophies, several suspensions, and a lot of headaches.

Still, when we read your comments at the bottom of Monday's report that the move was due to go down, even we were surprised with the amount of vitriol Márquez received, especially from Red Bulls fans! Which got us to thinking:

Is Rafa the biggest villain in MLS history? Vote in the poll to the right, and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

12 December 9:19 de la tarde

There have been Claudio Bieler rumors for weeks now. There has also been very, very loud noise from Sporting KC already this offseason.

There's also the obvious fit: Sporting need someone who can and will put the ball in the net. For all of C.J. Sapong's improvement in his second year, he scored just nine times. Kei Kamara grabbed 11 goals, but could have had 25. And for the second year in a row, SKC went crashing out in the playoffs to a Houston team that was able to grab a couple of early goals, then batten down the hatches and count on the Sporting attack beating itself.

Bieler ain't that kind of cat. He's been good for about a goal every other game on every stop of his club career, which includes a 2008 Copa Libertadores crown with LDU Quito (Side note: They beat Jose Torres and Pachuca in the semifinals of the Club World Cup that year en route to a second-place finish. That was a good Quito team).

He's also been on the very fringes of the Argentine national team as recently as 2010, getting a camp under then-manager Diego Maradona (but no cap).

When you have a finisher with that kind of pedigree available, who's just 28 years old, you say "yes." According to Goal.com, that's exactly what's happening on Monday.

Now, it remains to be seen how it'll quite fit, since Bieler has usually played off a target striker instead of as a winger in a 4-3-3. A formational pivot could be in the works, or Peter Vermes could have some other trick up his sleeve.

Either way, though, it certainly looks like Sporting KC are very, very serious about getting better this offseason.

12 December 9:04 de la tarde

I tagged this as "Canadian Exports" because I'm sadistic.

For those Yanks who may not be familiar (I'm going to go right ahead and assume that all our Canuck readers absolutely are): Owen Hargreaves was born and raised in Calgary, living there — and developing as a soccer player there — until age 16, at which point Bayern Munich spotted him and signed him to a youth deal. He made his first team breakthrough early in the 2000-01 season, which just so happened to be the year that Munich won their most recent UEFA Champions League crown.

"Why haven't I heard of this guy in CONCACAF qualifying?" you're wondering.

It's because Hargreaves spurned Canada to play for Wales (yes, Wales). And on the eve of what was to be his first cap for the Welsh youth national team, he went on to spurn them as well, because big ol' England came calling.

Hardcore Canadian national team fans have a very, very nasty nickname for him.

Anyway, Hargreaves was pretty damn good, impressed for England in the 2004 Euros and 2006 World Cup, and seemed to just be entering his prime and was on track to be one of the world's best pure destroyers. He moved from Munich to Manchester United in the interim.

And then the injuries hit. Hargreaves played 17 competitive club games in '06-07, 34 in '07-08, and a grand total of nine since then. In what should have been his prime, he became a salary albatross, first with United and then with Manchester City.

"What's all this got to do with MLS?"

Here ya go:

What about a spell in Major League Soccer in the United States?

Yes. They want me to go and play over there. It is a big move, you have to decide do you want to make the move, a big change. There are so many things I could do there and it would be nice to spend time in Canada.

Hargreaves is "just" 31 years old, but whoever it is that wants him to "go and play over there" may want to do a little more homework. They wanted him to play at Old Trafford and City of Manchester Stadium as well. Add in the indignity of signing the Canadian cross between Giuseppi Rossi and John O'Brien, and it's hard to believe that anyone in MLS would make this move, but most especially any of the three Canadian teams.

But hey ... if he does come to MLS after multiple injury-ravaged years, he wouldn't be the first.