Kick Off: FC Dallas set to play in "biggest game of season"

Kick Off - Ugo Ihemelu

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It’s a sign of the importance the CONCACAF Champions League has assumed for MLS clubs these days that FC Dallas are calling the return leg of their preliminary round series against Salvadoran side Alianza “the biggest game of our season so far.”

Those words belong to veteran defender Ugo Ihemelu, whose team goes into tonight’s match (8 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer) with a 1-0 aggregate-goal lead: “Coach said it’s the biggest game of our season so far and I think you’d have to agree with him. It’s the first time for this club [in this tournament]. … It’s big.”

Also looking to join FC Dallas in the group stage will be the Seattle Sounders, who have a mountain to climb after losing 1-0 on the road to San Francisco of Panama in the first leg (10 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer). “We have to try and get back our confidence,” said Seattle midfielder Mauro Rosales after losses to Manchester United, San Francisco and the Houston Dynamo.

One down, two to go after Toronto FC clinched passage to the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League last night. A brace by TFC’s Ryan Johnson helped TFC achieve the feat on the road in Nicaragua, playing on a field that was “deplorable” and which featured “ankle-high grass.” The two MLS teams tonight will have the benefit of playing at home.

There are also three MLS league matches on tap for tonight including the main event on ESPN2. The Portland Timbers are winless in six matches at home and they face the toughest possible team to break the streak as the LA Galaxy, undefeated in 14 matches, visit JELD-WEN Field tonight (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

You know what separates the Galaxy from other MLS teams? Here’s what LA’s Landon Donovan thinks: “For a lot of teams, it's about building or rebuilding or making the playoffs. But for us, the goal is to win.”

While Portland manager John Spencer didn’t reveal his first XI, expect forward Eddie Johnson and winger Sal Zizzo to be in there based on what the Scotsman had to say about them.

Chicago Fire manager Frank Klopas has already confirmed that he’ll be using his two newest internationals in tonight’s match against the Philadelphia Union (9 p.m. ET, MatchDay Live). The last-place Fire desperately need Sebastián Grazzini and Pável Pardo to help capitalize on four of the next six matches at home beginning tonight. “Our season is going to be defined with what we do this month,” said Logan Pause.

Last time Philly and Chicago met earlier this season, it was Carlos Ruiz netting the game-winner. The Philadelphia Daily News cites a source that a move to Mexican side Veracruz is nearly complete for the Guatemalan forward but the Union are not concerned: “If you look at some of the games when he wasn't here, we were pretty good without him.”

Few teams have gone through the adversity that Real Salt Lake has this year. They battle Sporting Kansas City on the road tonight (8:30 p.m. ET, MatchDay Live) without Jámison Olave, Ned Grabavoy and of course, Javier Morales. After Chris Schuler’s “average to subpar performance” in a 2-0 home loss to Columbus, manager Jason Kreis seems apt for a change: “We have another center back [Rauwshawn McKenzie] who is quite capable and has ties to Kansas City, so maybe it’s time to give him a chance.”

While RSL may be missing a couple of players, Sporting Kansas City have recovered an important one as they look to extend a club-record 13-game unbeaten run. After his goal rescued a result for Sporting last weekend, Teal Bunbury is feeling like he’s back on track after a period in which manager Peter Vermes says “he lost a little bit of his confidence and even lost a little bit of his effort.”

A new soccer attendance record will be set tonight in South Florida as European champions FC Barcelona face CD Guadalajara in the World Football Challenge at Sun Life Stadium. Mexican-American left back Miguel Ángel Ponce, who was born in Sacramento, Calif., previews the match: “I always wanted to and dreamed of playing this kind of game.”

The New England Revolution’s signing of Milton Caraglio as a designated player was a rare one. Not only is he the first DP in club history, but the club admits it signed him on loan without scouting him in person. “It’s extremely rare for us,” said VP of player personnel Mike Burns.

In other news from New England, one writer takes a crack at interpreting a somewhat cryptic tweet by Shalrie Joseph in which he says: “I know I won't be back next year so am just happy to give it all this year.”

It’s unsure whether he’d be a designated player or not, but Houston Dynamo manager Dominic Kinnear confirmed to the Houston Chronicle that his club is looking to sign Honduran forward Carlo Costly.

The Dynamo have also reportedly extended an offer to Mexican Under-17 World Cup champion and captain Antonio Briseño of Atlas. (SPANISH)

Meanwhile, New Zealander Kris Bright is being linked with a move to the Portland Timbers, according to one Hungarian outlet. (HUNGARIAN)

FC Dallas forward Fabián Castillo made his first appearance as a substitute in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup as hosts Colombia racked up another win, 2-0 against Mali to qualify for the next round.

The Washington Post features the debate surrounding the decision by US youth national team defender and D.C. United academy product Jalen Robinson to accept a scholarship to attend Wake Forest instead of going pro: “From a developmental standpoint, college and high school, those are not the right places for players to get a lot better,” said Thomas Rongen, ex-US Under-20 coach.

Staying in Washington, the debate continues about Dwayne De Rosario’s best position on the field after he scored two goals as a withdrawn forward in San Jose last weekend. With Josh Wolff and Charlie Davies on the mend, he might move back into midfield this weekend.

Finally, get to know FC Dallas defender and Tulsa, Okla., native Zach Loyd. Some of the things you can learn: “When I was 14, I was a tube boy for Big Splash Water Park. I had to go around and pick up everybody's tubes.”

MLSsoccer.com Must-Reads:

Gringo Report: Club Tijuana mining Southern California for talent

FC Barcelona go swimming with the Miami dolphins at the Seaquarium

The latest edition of the MLSsoccer.com Power Rankings for Week 20


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