Kick Off: Could Jermaine Jones swap Schalke for a stateside move to MLS?

Here are the Top 15 soccer stories we’re following today:

1. JONES TO MLS THIS SUMMER?

Jermaine Jones has been a linchpin of one of Germany’s biggest clubs since 2007. But could he be heading to MLS? A report from Goal.com’s Dutch site suggests Jones could be seeking a move to the US over the summer. Take it with a grain of salt? Or is it for real?

2. ORLANDO CITY: “WE WANT TO BE ANNOUNCED IN MLS BY END OF 2013”

Blind optimism, blind faith or just sheer determination, call it what you will. But Orlando City have one goal: to become the next MLS expansion franchise. The ambitious USL Pro club sent out this tweet via their official Twitter feed yesterday. “We want to be announced for @MLS expansion by the end of 2013 - @OCPres #GoCity #LionNation” So how close are they to becoming the newest MLS team? The New York Times examines that and here’s a sneak peek inside the Lions' proposed new stadium.

3. TV RATINGS BONANZA

What's word on Mexico vs. USA right now? The TV ratings were through the roof. In fact they were double the previous high for a World Cup qualifier, 1.191 million, which came when the US played Mexico in 2009. Tuesday night’s stalemate in Mexico City drew an incredible TV audience of 2.385 million people on ESPN. Add that to the ratings on UniMas, where an average of 4.58 million viewers tuned in. Wow.

4. WHICH US CITIES TUNED IN?

Here is some incredibly interesting data from ESPN on the viewer ratings from the USA vs. Mexico match. The top-rated TV markets in the US were as follows: Birmingham, Ala. (2.9), Austin (2.6), Seattle (2.4), Columbus (2.4), LA (2.3), San Diego (2.3), Hartford (2.3). Did Austin and Hartford surprise anyone? Which other cities should have a higher ranking? 

5. SACRAMENTO STEAMING AHEAD

After Orlando, another USL Pro side is doing it big. Yesterday, Sacramento announced plans for the newest USL Pro franchise, which debuts in 2014. On April 1, there’ll be an online poll to decide the franchise's name and team colors. Then on July 15, the kit will be launched and an EPL and Liga MX team will play a friendly in Sacramento, with a team of more than 26 MLS invitees from the city also appearing. 

6. MLS TOPS PLAYER DIVERSITY ACROSS ALL US SPORTS

Turns out if you’re a fan of sports in the US and you want to see professional athletes from all four corners of the globe, the league to watch is MLS. With players from more than 62 nations (birthplace not nationality) playing for teams across the league, MLS is North America’s most diverse sports league. Fun fact: There is the same number of players who hail from Canada as there are from the UK and Ireland: 24.

7. BESLER AND ZUSI GO WAY BACK

Two of the USMNT’s youngest players in the Azteca on Tuesday night have more in common than you’d think, USA Today explains. Both Graham Zusi and Matt Besler play for Sporting KC. Right. But during their rookie season with KC in 2009, money was tight. So Besler stayed with his family in Overland Park, Kan. … and Zusi slept in their basement. They were roommates for three years and their puppies are sisters. "If you asked us a couple of years ago if we both would be where we are now, we'd tell you that you were crazy," Zusi said.

8. USA’S OLD IDENTITY FOUND, HERE TO STAY?

With the USMNT’s hard-fought stalemate against Mexico still resonating across the continent and further afield, one key question has kept cropping up: Have the US rediscovered their identity for good? Our very own Simon Borg takes a look at how the USA’s team of battlers got back to their best in the last two WC qualifiers, and if that’s here to stay. And many are hoping the new defensive shape is here to stay, too.

9. AZTECA: FROM THE US FANS VIEW

These things usually sprout up a day or so after an epic US away game. Tuesday's scoreless tie in the Azteca certainly fits the bill. Check out these pictures from Douglas Zimmerman, which follows a large group of US fans before, during and after the USMNT’s historic battle. Warning: includes bleeding heads, one fingered gestures and copious amounts of tequila … by the looks of it. So what's it like to be a US supporter at the Azteca? Watch this video.

10. BUDDLE ALMOST BACK, BUT CALDERÓN ADDS TO RAPIDS' INJURY WOES

Good and bad news for the Colorado Rapids, as their injury list keeps racking up new names. But first the good news, Edson Buddle is in line to make his Rapids debut against the Portland Timbers this weekend. On the flip side, Diego Calderón is set to miss a lengthy chunk of the season with the knee injury he picked up by sliding into the goalpost in last week's loss to LA. Oscar Pareja needs a four-leaf clover or something.

11. FBI PROBES IN FIFA/CONCACAF CORRUPTION

Big news arrived overnight as the ongoing investigation into alleged corruption in soccer took a new twist. Now the FBI is involved. Investigators are said to have persuaded a key party, the son of former CONCACAF president and FIFA vice president Jack Warner, to become a cooperating witness. Stay tuned, folks.

12. COSTA RICAN FANS NOT LETTING IT GO

ICYMI, here is the protest from Costa Rican fans during their 2-0 win over Jamaica earlier this week. Los Ticos fans weren’t happy with the blizzard conditions in Denver during their loss to the US, and despite FIFA waving away a protest from the Costa Rican soccer federation, fans in the stadium showed their disgust by turning their backs when FIFA’s Fair Play hymn and flag appeared at Estadio Nacional. The USMNT should expect a more hostile reception than usual when it travels to Costa Rica on September 6.

13. D.C. TO BUILD ACADEMY IN INDONESIA?

That sub-heading caught your attention. It happened to me, too. But apparently United are continuing to strengthen their links in the Far East, as Black and Red United explains. The rumors are that a winter tour of Indonesia is planned, as well as opening a “semi-academy” (not quite sure what that means) as D.C. co-owner Erick Thohir tries to help soccer grow in his homeland.

14. KLOPAS SAFE IN CHICAGO

Despite only one goal scored and one point on the board after four games this season, Frank Klopas’ job as Chicago Fire head coach is safe. Klopas has received what many would call "the dreaded vote of confidence" from Club President Javier Leon. “I strongly believe in having a coach that has so much invested in the city,” Leon said. “Believe me, nobody feels worse than Frank in terms of the results thus far.” It seems as if Klopas is going nowhere as the Fire aim to turn things around.

15. SALARY CAP IN SERIE B

While some Eurosnobs scoff at the salary cap in place in MLS, it seems as though one Euro country is willing to give it a try after several financial meltdowns over the years. Starting next season, Serie B, Italy’s second tier, will initiate a salary cap for the first time in its history. Could this trend start spreading across the rest of Europe?

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