Kick Off: First place on the line in national TV match

Kick Off - Kansas City vs. Philadelphia

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At the beginning of the 2011 season few would have circled tonight’s nationally televised match between Sporting Kansas City and Philadelphia Union and thought first place in the East would be on the line (8:30 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer and Fox Deportes).

But with the Columbus Crew not playing until Saturday night, the winner of tonight’s match can claim top spot in the Eastern Conference, which guarantees home-field advantage in a potential Eastern Conference championship match.

"Not a lot of people believed in us being in the position we are in today but I don't begrudge that," says Sporting manager Peter Vermes.

Aside from No. 1 goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón, the Union will be missing starting right back Sheanon Williams due to a concussion suffered against Columbus. It will mean more lineup shuffling for Philly manager Peter Nowak.

The Sons of Ben will be making the trek to Kansas City, many taking off work to support their club on a weeknight. “In this economy, that speaks volumes to the commitment we have to supporting this team," says an SOB VP. "A lot of people committed to this trip when KC was near the bottom of the standings. Now [with SKC in second place in the East], this may be one of the Union's biggest away games to date."

Vermes used to coach Philadelphia attacking midfielder Freddy Adu, when he was an assistant with the US Under-20 national team and had this to say about the Union's playmaker: “He has the desire and work ethic to be good. … He has the right frame of mind. It’s just, people need to give him space to grow.”

There will be high expectations surrounding the New York Red Bulls vs. Portland Timbers match on Saturday night at Red Bull Arena and not only because the two teams are in a wild card battle (7:30 p.m. ET, MatchDay Live). It will be the first match after Rafa Márquez made comments that were critical of his teammates. In the fallout from those statements, one writer calls Márquez “an albatross around the neck of New York” while another attempts to navigate through the Mexican national team captain’s thought process.

Meanwhile, in Portland, they have a mini-controversy of their own with a bench player who’s making a case for playing time, stating: “I don’t get enough minutes.”

It could be a battle of conference leaders – pending the Sporting-Philadelphia result from later tonight – when the surprising Columbus Crew host the Supporters’ Shield frontrunners LA Galaxy on Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET, MatchDay Live). It’ll also be a battle of goal scorers as the Crew’s Andrés Mendoza looks to overtake LA’s Landon Donovan atop the MLS scoring charts. “Maybe I didn’t expect to be where I am at now [in the scoring race], but if you are a forward, you need to get those numbers,” says “El Condor.”

Meanwhile, Warzycha claims he might change his formation for the match and go to one forward in order to win the midfield battle.

Houston Dynamo manager Dominic Kinnear is hopeful that midfielder Adam Moffat has fully recovered from a head injury to take the field against Texas rivals FC Dallas on Saturday afternoon (4 p.m. ET, TeleFutura). When Moffat starts, the Dynamo have only lost two of nine matches. “This week we've run some tests and stuff like that," Moffat says. "Everything seems to be going well. I feel good."

On Saturday night, D.C. United get set to host a dangerous Real Salt Lake side, which has won its last five MLS matches (7:30 p.m. ET, MatchDay Live). DC veteran Clyde Simms would prefer not to hear postseason talk just yet: “We just have to dig in and concentrate, take one game at a time and not even think about playoffs.”

The Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps will partake in a historic Cascadia Cup rivalry match on Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET, MatchDay Live and TSN). It will mark the final match at Empire Field and the Whitecaps players are already waxing nostalgic ahead of their move to BC Place: “This season here was always fun and we had a lot of crazy games," says Davide Chiumiento. " We will miss it, but we need to look forward."

While he recuperates a knee ligament tear, Seattle star Mauro Rosales revealed that he is negotiating with the Sounders on a two-year extension. Club GM Adrian Hanauer comments on the Argentine’s contract situation here.

The defending champion Colorado Rapids will be looking for a win to move closer to locking down a wild card spot and avoid finding themselves in a scrap for a playoff berth when they host the San Jose Earthquakes (9 p.m. ET, MatchDay Live). But the Rapids’ recent form is a concern for manager Gary Smith: “We have a group of players that won us a championship last year. They're potentially as good as anything in the league. The challenge is those guys finding a bit more confidence.”

In other league matches this weekend: Chivas USA and Toronto FC battle at the Home Depot Center on Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET, MatchDay Live) where the question is: will Torsten Frings start in the back or at midfield for TFC? And the Chicago Fire play host to the New England Revolution on Sunday afternoon (4 p.m. ET, MatchDay Live).

Word from Turkey is that former Spain international Guti wants to leave Besiktas when his contract is up and “play in a country where I have never played before.” The rumor linking him to the LA Galaxy is already circulating. (SPANISH)

in other international news, Morelia and Santos Laguna registered shutout wins in their respective CONCACAF Champions League matches last night and are now at the top of Group A and Group B respectively. Here are the highlights of the 6-0 pasting that Santos Laguna put on Isidro Metapán. (VIDEO)

Also last night at JELD-WEN Field, the US women’s national team blanked Canada thanks to the goal-scoring pair from the World Cup: Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan. Watch the highlights here.

Aside from the MLS match later this evening, the only other live televised match is the English Championship match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Leeds United (2:30pm ET, Fox Soccer Plus). If you can catch Porto vs. Benfica this afternoon on ESPN3.com, it’s one of the epic European rivalries worth watching.

We leave you with a scene that involves Diego Maradona in the United Arab Emirates. As he looks to pose in front of a banner honoring his grandchild, he has to kick a persistent Al-Wasl fan out of the shot. Literally. (VIDEO)

MLSsoccer.com Must-Reads:

ExtraTime Radio: Booing Rafa Márquez and the debut of The Big Interview on the latest edition

The Throw-In: Bradley to Egypt would be a historic feat

24 Under 24: The education of New York’s Juan Agudelo


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