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Kick Off: With gamesmanship out of the way, USMNT ready for Costa Rica

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

1. FINAL COUNTDOWN TO COSTA RICA VS. US

Friday night marks the beginning of perhaps the US national team’s most important matches in the Hexagonal so far as the Americans take on Costa Rica in San Jose. For the USA, there is a slim chance that a win could qualify them for the World Cup next summer and continue the fantastic winning streak the team is currently on. For Costa Rica, they seem to simply want revenge for Denver. So what can the US expect? Here's MLSsoccer.com's match preview, and here's the Shin Guardian with another look.

2. DONOVAN BETTER THAN EVER

I’d say this is the best I’ve ever played,” was Landon Donovan's evaluation of himself when speaking to the media on Thursday. For any opposition, that should be a scary proposition, and his US teammates were just as full of praise for the importance of Donovan on the squad. Michael Bradley for one, believes “If we want more than three games at a World Cup, we need Landon." And the US’ top goalscorer may be called upon up front on Friday night as, despite Jurgen Klinsmann suggesting he’s fit, the status of Jozy Altidore is still in the balance.

3. HOW THE US GOT THEIR GROOVE BACK

The USMNT have never won in Costa Rica, and yet, no one seems to be particularly worried ahead of this important match. It’s a very different scenario from the last time the two teams met and perhaps highlights better than anything the change that has taken place under Klinsmann. Doug Mcintyre at ESPNFC.com looks closer.

4. LEIWEKE IN SEARCH OF NEW GM AND NEW DP

Maple Leaf Sports and Enterntainment CEO Tim Leiweke addressed the media on Thursday to officially announce the departure of president and GM Kevin Payne. And during the conference call, Leiweke spoke about the search for a new GM and the need to hire someone who understands the league and can work within the salary cap structure. One name in particular is already being mentioned by Leiweke: “is Frank [Yallop] someone we’re talking to? Yes.” Leiweke also stated that Ryan Nelson's job is still 100 percent secure and that the club is looking for new DPs as well as potential upgrades to BMO Field.

5. REMEMBERING BOBBY RHINE

Thursday marked two years to the day since the sudden and untimely passing of Bobby Rhine, the popular FC Dallas defender and play-by-play commentator who was the very embodiment of his club. In this moving piece by Nick Firchau, The Word looks back at that sad day and how it affected those closest to him.

6. MLS IN DETROIT? HOW ABOUT BUFFALO?

September will be “a big month” for Soccer in Detroit. That’s according to a facebook message from "Bring MLS to Detroit," who say they will “soon know more details on the journey to bring MLS soccer to Motown. What could this exciting news be? Meanwhile, Buffalo would like a pro soccer team and a soccer-specific stadium for its team to play in.

7. THE RISE OF "WEE MAN" JACK MCBEAN

“Play for yourself, play for the love of the game.” That was the advice of Jack McBean’s father, Callum. The young LA Galaxy forward certainly seems to have taken the message to heart. So how did McBean arrive from a youngster watching British teams with his dad to rooming with Pablo Mastroeni?

8. HUNT ON NATIONAL TV DEAL, NEW DALLAS SPONSOR

The Hunt family knows a thing or two about MLS. So when Dan Hunt suggests that any new TV deal for the league is going to be “a huge improvement” and the league is not too far away from a deal that will be a “life-changing moment in time,” fans pay attention.  The Hunt sports group has also announced it has a new stadium naming partner for FC Dallas Stadium. The new partner will be revealed on Sept. 10.

9. NYCFC MAKING PROGRESS

While speaking to Sports Business Global, New York Yankees president Randy Levine revealed that MLS’s 20th franchise is close to naming the person who will run the club's business operations. He also dropped some information about their potential new home, ruling out a stadium on Pier 40.

10. HAVE ONE POTENTIAL AND ONE EXISTING FRANCHISE EDGED CLOSER TO NEW STADIUMS?

With Orlando City hosting this Saturdays USL final, they are hoping to bring 15,000 fans to the Citrus bowl to watch the game. Not only would this be an attendance record for the club, it would also be a pretty good indication of the team's support as an MLS franchise, should it get its own stadium. Whether or not that stadium gets built became a little clearer on Thursday when Mayor Buddy Dyer and his legal team announced that taxpayers cannot be partial owners of any new stadium, even if they help fund it. In other stadium news, USC has taken control of the Los Angeles Memorial coliseum with plans to restore the venue to its former glory. Part of that will allegedly involve tearing down the Sports Arena, which the university also acquired, and replacing it with a 22,000-seat soccer stadium.

11. RED BULL WORLD

Copy, paste and repeat. That seems to be the plan for Red Bull as they look to build an army of soccer teams around the world, buying clubs and completely rebranding them in identical uniform fashion. The former MetroStars were one such club and now form part of a larger family including teams from Austia, Germany, Brasil and Ghana. Afootballreport.com examines the energy drink company’s plan for world soccer domination.

12. WHAT EUROPE CAN LEARN FROM THE US

With Real Madrid once again breaking the world transfer fee record with the signing of Gareth Bale – and European leagues being repeatedly dominated by the same two or three teams – is it time Europe learned a lesson from the United States?

13. DO INTERNATIONAL FIXTURES HELP LEAD TO MLS PARITY?

This season has seen the emergence of possibly the tightest playoff race ever. With 16 of the 19 teams still realistically fighting for places, it's safe to say there is a parity in MLS not seen in many other leagues. Why has this season in particular been so close though? Does it have something to do with the number of international competitions?

14.US DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM: TO PLAY OR NOT TO PLAY

Although it's a huge honor, being selected to take part in the U.S. Soccer Development program is not without its potential drawbacks. Would you sacrifice youthful experiences on the outside chance of going pro? Kyle McCarthy at FoxSports.com has more.

15. USMNT STARS UPSTAGED … BY A COW.

OK, hats off to whoever this was. Costa Rica took their complete and "udder" trolling of the USMNT to the next level on Thursday when interviews with Klinsmann and Omar Gonzalez were interrupted by an air-horn wielding giant cow mascot.

MLSsoccer.com Musts

ExtraTime Radio: Brad Guzan talks gamesmanship in Costa Rica

Three for Thursday: Three Argentinian Playmakers who could be a hit in MLS

Superdraft reunion: Watch the video here