Kick Off: Monterrey should fear beard, Canada's turn

Now we know the real reason for Real Salt Lake’s historic run in the CONCACAF Champions League which wraps up tonight with the second leg of the final series against Monterrey (10 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer and Telefutura).

Many wondered if it was a fashion statement, but Robbie Russell’s beard has a lot more to it and there’s a lot more to him, too. Read about Russell’s story, what gave rise to the facial hair and when it’s coming off.

The media headlines claim that tonight’s match is the biggest in MLS’ 16-year history.

Real Salt Lake are at home and are ready to take advantage of their heralded home field advantage at Rio Tinto Stadium. Even though points are not at stake in tonight’s match, manager Jason Kreis says his team will be after “the three points” because that’s just how his team is trained to think.

It’s the laser-like focus that Kreis has become known for. It helps keep out the noise around him, including who’s playing in the Super Bowl and what day Easter falls on.

Read what tonight’s broadcasters of the CCL match on Fox Soccer think about the game, as Kyle Martino making a bold prediction at the end of the article.

Soccer commonly intertwines with business and politics. That’s the case with the CONCACAF Champions League final. Find out about the big meetings taking place in a Salt Lake City hotel earlier this week.

Just as RSL made the CONCACAF Champions League a top priority for the club, the Vancouver Whitecaps are doing the same with the Nutrilite Canadian Championship (NCC), which kicks off today with two semifinal, home-and-home series.

Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi admits he didn’t impress the importance of the NCC to manager Teitur Thordarson last year. However, it’s a “big goal” this time around for the first-year MLS club.

Vancouver head out to face Montreal (8 p.m. ET), where local fans will also be tuning in to a playoff Game 7 between the Canadiens and Bruins in the NHL. The Impact say they’re the underdogs in this match-up, citing budgets, player experience and the fact that a 0-0 first leg result at home is a good result for them.

Despite the modest goals, the Impact are still comfortable with trash talking.

Meanwhile, Edmonton welcomes Toronto FC tonight in their NCC series (8:30 p.m. ET). Unlike the Whitecaps, who say they will go with a first-choice lineup, TFC manager Aron Winter indicates he will “give some guys some rest” for this first leg match.

In addition to CONCACAF Champions League and Nutrilite Canadian Championship action, the Houston Dynamo will host the official introduction of major signing Sergio Koke, who was acquired on a tip from a Dynamo rival in MLS.

The Columbus Crew announced a signing of their own and manager Robert Warzycha cautions fans not to get carried away with the acquisition of 20-year-old Argentine midfielder Santiago Prim. This was an acquisition with an eye toward the future.

While the Crew have been stingy on their back line this year, the Portland Timbers have conceded multiple goals on more than a few occasions. Manager John Spencer believes that his team has now developed a reputation of being “mentally soft.”

Timbers rivals Seattle Sounders will welcome the return of injured midfielder Steve Zakuani, who flew back to Seattle on Tuesday while fans plan a tribute for him. Read the letter that Zakuani penned for them on his ride home.

Meanwhile, Rapids midfielder Brian Mullan, whose was involved in the tackle that broke Zakuani’s leg, is expected to learn the length his suspension later today.

Colorado manager Gary Smith puts the Mullan-Zakuani challenge into perspective and slams anyone comparing it with other premeditated acts on the field of play. He also reminds everyone of the Ugo Ihemelu challenge on Mac Kandji during MLS Cup 2010 and points out how there was no outrage in that case.

Another injury to a star player occurred during Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup play-in match won by the New England Revolution over D.C. United. Branko Boskovic had to come out of the game after scoring two goals to help his team mount a late comeback. D.C.’s club president was not happy: “That was a nasty foul and I don’t think it was a coincidence that Boskovic suffered it.”

Reigning MLS MVP David Ferreira says that he has a specific doctor in mind to carry out the surgery on the double fracture of his ankle suffered over the weekend. That doctor is based in Colombia. (SPANISH)

Lastly, the other event that is set to capture the attention of the soccer masses in America today will be the UEFA Champions League semifinal between Real Madrid and Barcelona (2:30 p.m. ET, FX).

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