Kick Off: USMNT's "money man" Jozy Altidore has team on verge of early qualification to World Cup
Here are the Top 15 soccer stories we’re following today.
1. USMNT VIRTUALLY BOOK TICKET TO BRAZIL WORLD CUP: With their third straight World Cup qualifying victory in last night's 1-0 win over Honduras at Rio Tinto Stadium (watch the highlights here), the USMNT have all but mathematically clinched a spot in the 2014 World Cup. The players all know it: "We're in the driver's seat now," said veteran goalkeeper Tim Howard; "We're sitting pretty," said LA defender Omar Gonzalez; "We got one foot in Brazil now," says Jozy Altidore. It's entertaining to see Jurgen Klinsmann try to rein in the enthusiasm: "We're not talking about the finish line … Once we get together in September, it's going to be a tough grind. It's going to go back to reality."
2. ALTIDORE THE "MONEY MAN": Make it four goals in four matches for the hottest American striker in the world today. No wonder US players are calling him their "money man." Altidore played it cool after scoring the game-winner in the 1-0 win over Honduras last night. "I was never really worried about it at all," Altidore said about his past goal drought in a US jersey. Now he's looking forward to some vacay: "That's all I'm looking forward to, Game 7 Thursday night, Miami Heat."
3. GET YOUR PLAYER RATINGS HERE: The New York Times gave Altidore a "7" in its player ratings for the match and MLSsoccer.com's Greg Seltzer awards the same grade to US manager Jurgen Klinsmann. Meanwhile, SI.com gave Seattle's Eddie Johnson a "5" and Pro Soccer Talk's Steve Davis reserved his lowest grades for fellow Sounder Brad Evans and Jermaine Jones.
4. COSTA RICA ALSO FEELING IT: The USA and Costa Rica are clearly the big winners from the set of June qualifiers in CONCACAF. After tying Mexico in the Estadio Azteca, Costa Rica dispatched of Panama with a 2-0 win last night and are now just two points behind the USA on 11 points. The US travel to face Costa Rica in their next qualifier in September.
5. TIMBERS vs. GALAXY HIGHLIGHTS WEDNESDAY MLS SLATE: You have a few hours to recharge the batteries ahead of some intense MLS action later tonight. The highlight of the four-match slate has to be the red-hot Timbers traveling to face the defending champs (10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE). While the Galaxy have struggled without Robbie Keane (the numbers show why LA is happy he's back), the Timbers are busy being featured in USA Today, where we find out the club has developed a fan affinity on par with the San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets.
6. LEAGUE ACTION KICKS OFF AT 8 PM ET: A showdown between two of the best Eastern Conference teams, Montreal and Houston, gets the night started (8 ET, read the preview here). The rejuvenated Chicago Fire, who confirmed interest in English forward Carlton Cole, welcome the Colorado Rapids (8:30 pm ET, read the preview here). And Chivas USA's new coach, José Luis Real, makes his MLS debut in Vancouver, promising a brand new approach to what El Chelís showed (10 pm ET, read the preview here).
7. SUSPENSIONS MAY DICTATE YOUR FANTASY STARTING LINEUP: The MLS Disciplinary Committee announced one-game suspensions to three players and Colorado Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja. Watch the plays that led to the discipline here and then head to the MLS Fantasy: Manager home to fix your lineup accordingly. Squads locks in 15 minutes before tonight's first match.
8. OBAFEMI MARTINS LOVES MLS: He's only joined the league a few months ago, but he's already one of its biggest proponents. The Seattle Sounders DP says he spent his mini-vacation in Italy telling everyone about the US top-flight league: "For me, I’m going to say the MLS league now is one of the best. The players who are not here have to come and try it and see how the fans are and how everything is going here.”
9. EINTRACHT FRANKFURT 'KEEPER HEADING TO MLS: That's the story on FIFA.com. Oka Nikolov, a 39-year-old goalkeeper, has come to a mutual agreement to end his Bundesliga contract given an "unnamed MLS club have already made an offer." The player himself confirms it: "Throughout my career, I have always dreamed of expanding my horizons with a move to America and now it's possible to fulfil that." Which team do you have him going to?
10. YALLOP TO BECOME HEAD COACH OF CANADA? Although Canada yesterday opted to name perennial interim head coach Colin Miller as their manager during the upcoming CONCACAF Gold Cup, a report claims that ex-San Jose Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop could take over beginning in August.
11. FC DALLAS SIGN US UNDER-20 WORLD CUP FORWARD: Another World Cup is right around the corner for US fans with the Under-20s opening their participation against Spain on Friday. But before a ball is even kicked, it's already a memorable week for one player on the squad as Danny Garcia puts pen to paper on a deal with FC Dallas. Meanwhile, Garcia & Co. will be kicking their legs up and watching some USA vs. Spain from the 2009 Confederations Cup in preparation for Friday. Head coach Tab Ramos is making them do it.
12. SOCCER STADIUM IN DOWNTOWN LA? That's the debate happening in SoCal, where for the last few years an NFL stadium has been discussed in downtown. But the push for a downtown soccer stadium seems to be picking up even more steam of late with local officials. This LA columnist thinks it's the best choice for the city.
13. INT'L SOCCER ON THE TUBE: In addition to the MLS action later on tonight, fans also have two interesting Confederations Cup matches to look forward to this afternoon. US rivals Mexico face hosts Brazil in a key group clash (2:30 pm ET, ESPN and Univision), while Italy take on Japan in the second match of the doubleheader (5:45 pm ET, ESPN and UniMas).
14. NEW WEEKLY MLS MAGAZINE SHOW ON NBCSN AND TSN: A busy soccer week will be capped by the debut of the newest weekly MLS magazine show on Friday on NBC Sports Network (7:30 pm ET) and TSN2 (2 pm ET) called MLS Insider. It's the first program produced by MLS+ and it's in the hands of an eight-time Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, who has ESPN's 30-for-30 series on his résumé.
15. FRONT ROW SEAT FOR RAY ALLEN'S TREY: It was the other big sports story talked about last night: The Miami Heat's epic comeback against the San Antonio Spurs capped by a game-tying three-pointed by Ray Allen. Look at the soccer star who got a front-row seat to all the action (PHOTO).
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