Kick Off: Stars of the future ready to shine at Combine

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The weeks of waiting are over, and years of preparation come down to this for the best in college soccer. Today marks the biggest exam of their soccer lives.

Friday marks the start of the 2013 MLS Combine presented by adidas, which runs until next Tuesday, Jan. 15. Get ready for five days full of chances to impress, as young talent aim to raise their stock ahead of the MLS SuperDraft in Indianapolis on Jan. 17.

Visit our jam-packed Combine section for all the latest news from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., including videos, player and team reactions and updated mock drafts, plus everything else you need to know about the 2013 MLS Combine and SuperDraft. And see who we've earmarked as the top forward prospects.

Check out our Insider blog from Day 1 at the Combine, as our guys get to know the players a little better. And oh, yeah, two more players signed Generation adidas contracts with the league prior to the combine.

The City of Columbus and the Crew, meanwhile, have spoken of their plans to be a host venue in the future. Read more.  And check out who the Crew announced as another Homegrown signing.

So as Columbus vie to get one of the biggest gigs in MLS, Sporting Kansas City and Livestrong Sporting Park were awarded perhaps the biggest MLS show of them all yesterday, as Don Garber announced the 2013 MLS All-Star Game is heading to Livestrong Sporting Park.

“This market has just been so incredibly exciting for all of us at Major League Soccer — and really for soccer fans throughout the United States and North America," Garber said while at LSP. “We had a commitment to them that we would work to find a special event.”

And Garber excited Sporting fans further, with his vision that more huge games will continue to take place at LSP in the future.

"US Soccer looks to this building as one of the great locations and great markets for US national team games," Garber said. "I think you'll see more of those games in the years to come.”

The Kansas City Star had this take on the ASG decision with plenty of reaction from Sporting staff.

And don’t forget, just across the Missouri border a huge announcement will be made tonight, as the winner of the 2013 MAC Hermann Trophy (the award given to honor college soccer’s player of the season) will be announced in St. Louis.

Watch the announcement here live at 6:45 pm ET, as two MLS Combine invitees — Notre Dame’s Ryan Finley (above) and Jose Gomez of Creighton — battle with Maryland’s Patrick Mullins for the coveted award.

And popping just back over the Kansas/Missouri border briefly, as Sporting KC are close to agreeing a new shirt sponsor for the upcoming MLS season, according to CEO Robb Heineman, who spoke to the KC Business Journal.

Let’s move away from future stars, deals and games for the moment. As something more immediate occurred in Portland yesterday: The Timbers signed a South American Designated Player.

Diego Valeri joins Caleb Porter’s revolution up in Oregon, as the Argentine playmaker is keen to follow in the footsteps of compatriots Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Javier Morales in becoming an MLS star.

“I am very happy and this, for me, is a beautiful opportunity,” Valeri said. “I always wanted to play in MLS. I’m grateful that the Portland Timbers have given me this chance.”

His loan from Lanús will see Valeri become a key piece in Porter’s attacking puzzle.

“He’s a very creative player, but also very intelligent, cerebral, smart, understands how to dictate the flow of the game but also a final-third player,” Porter said. “I believe he will produce goals as well. And like a good playmaker does will make players around him better.”

See MLS’ newest DP in action here. (VIDEO)

And the hype surrounding South American stars heading to MLS continued on Thursday, with FC Dallas landing Peruvian International ‘keeper Raúl Fernández.

FCD head coach Schellas Hyndman was pleased to have Fernández on board, telling reporters that “he has a strong command of the box and will compete for the starting position in Dallas. He is an extremely motivated individual. I expect he will embrace this opportunity.”

And speaking of Peruvian goalkeepers. Wow. Watch this athletic netminder's outrageous double save against Uruguay. How did he manage that? Incredible. (WATCH)

OK, so we all know Ryan Nelsen being announced as the new head coach of Toronto FC earlier this week was a bit of a shock. But were TFC a bit premature with the announcement? Well according to The Guardian and plenty of other outlets, the answer is: yes.

Apparently Nelsen is embroiled in a battle to get an early release from his QPR contract which runs until June, as the West Londoners want to get in a replacement defender before letting the big Kiwi leave. Some believe Nelsen could miss the start of the MLS season.

And speaking of the 35-year-old Toronto head coach, The New York Times has this piece highlighting the huge amount of faith shown in Nelsen by Toronto.

So as one MLS side begins to assemble a new coaching staff, another is dismantling theirs. According to Soccer By Ives, Chivas USA have axed lead assistant coach Carlos Llamosa. 

Chivas’ LA neighbors, meanwhille, have announced a reshuffle of their own. See which former Galaxy player was named technical director on Thursday, while another seems to be heading for a role as assistant .

And the Galaxy will be heading to the White House again to visit President Obama after their MLS Cup success. But this time they’ll have some friends: the Los Angeles Kings. That’s right, LA’s two reigning major league sports champions (sorry, Lakers fans) will reportedly head to the nations capital on a joint visit to commemorate their MLS and Stanley Cup successes.

Speaking of hockey, FC Dallas match commentator Jonathan Yardley has more than a passion for tickling some twine: This in-depth article speaks of Yardley’s strong New Jersey roots and how his journalism career all began to come together in a small ice rink in Morris Township, N.J.

Zipping back to Cali quickly, where former MLS defender Ryan Cochrance will serve as an assistant coach at the University of Santa Clara, his alma mater.

Across the pond we go now, and has it really been six years since Clint Dempsey moved to England? Time flies when you're having fun, and Deuce has been having plenty of that.

And another North American has made the switch from the US to the UK. But Andre Hainault is a little further North than Dempsey, as the Houston Dynamo announced Hainault has completed his move to SPL newcomers Ross County.

While another US export, Joe Gyau (who is currently on loan at 2.Bundesliga side St. Pauli) is trying to help his side score goals, which is proving very difficult. And Gyau has some big footsteps to follow. Read this up close and personal piece on former USMNT player — and Joe’s father — Philip Gyau, from The Washington Post.

With US soccer continuing to grow at every level domestically, a new soccer stadium in downtown Atlanta looks set to get underway, according to this report.

Reports are suggesting Vancouver forward Kenny Miller, meanwhile, could be set for another spell with Glasgow Rangers. This comes after ‘Caps president Bob Lenarduzzi branded Miller’s first season in MLS as “disappointing.”

Could Mario Balotelli take Miller’s place? Goal.com’s Keith Hickey thinks so. Check out EPL action this weekend to see if Balotelli and City are up to it on Super Sunday. Fox Soccer has you covered for the huge clashes between Manchester United vs. Liverpool at 8:30 am ET, and then Arsenal vs. Manchester City at 10:30 am ET. Two absolute crackers.

And finally, relax in the splendor of the wonderfully named American artist, Paine Proffitt. The Arizona native has spent the last 10 years in England designing artwork reflecting soccer’s “manly” side and has helped out clubs such as Port Vale, Aberdeen and West Brom with the covers for match day programs. Quite sublime.

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