Kick Off: Can EJ find that old KC form in USOC final?

Kick Off: Eddie Johnson

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Kansas City fans remember it well.

Eddie Johnson was an absolute terror against MLS defenses back in 2007, using a scintillating 15-goal, six-assist season to leverage his way to Europe as one of the most promising young American strikers in MLS history.

Now he’s five years older and undeniably wiser, back in a form similar to that landmark 2007 season and looking to light it up in Kansas City once again, this time in the US Open Cup final against … wait for it … Kansas City.

Johnson’s return to where he made his mark is perhaps the juiciest storyline of them all in tonight’s USOC final (9 pm ET, Gol TV, Live Chat on MLSsoccer.com), as the Sounders’ newest star looks to maintain his torrid 2012 pace and give Seattle their fourth consecutive USOC crown.

“I had my breakout year in Kansas City, so it’s good coming back to this place,” Johnson says, “because the fans believed in me and the organization believed in me.”

MLSsoccer.com has you covered for tonight’s game, including a live stream beginning at 8 pm ET.

As for the storylines heading into the match, the biggest one is a shot at history for the visiting Sounders. No team in the modern era has won four straight USOC crowns and no team in England, France, Germany or Italy has won four straight domestic cups.

“There's a lot of professional athletes around the world that played for many years, made some good money in their careers, but haven't won anything,” Johnson says of the final. “You want to be remembered when you're done because people forget about you real quick. ... It's special.”

Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso is no stranger to the final, having helped steer the Sounders to their fourth appearance and adding another with the Charleston Battery in 2008.

“He’s a battler. He’s a team guy. And he absolutely hates to lose – maybe more than anyone in our organization,” Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer says. “Those are the types of guys that help you win championship.”

On to Sporting KC, who face some issues heading into the final that could seriously affect their lineup. Despite the recent return of Honduran Olympic hero Roger Espinoza, SKC will miss Aurelien Collin (suspension) and could also be without wingers Bobby Convey (hamstring) and Peterson Joseph (ankle) for the match.

SKC head coach Peter Vermes, meanwhile, downplayed the home field advantage during a media teleconference on Tuesday, insisting that his team doesn’t have to “approach it from the perspective we're at home. We need to face it from the perspective it's a final."

Officials are expecting  a sold-out crowd at LSP that will include Sounders part owner and funnyman Drew Carey, who went all Leibert and Stoller on Twitter on Tuesday to let folks know he’s on his way.

And speaking of Twitter, SKC owner Robb Heinemann appears to have spent a long night wide awake on Tuesday. Watching the 2004 Open Cup final at midnight and promising to buy fans beers when they get to the game? We love Robb, but he’s got to a get a few winks in before kickoff.

Wednesday is the big day, meanwhile, for prospective Stoke City defender Geoff Cameron, who is in England and will find out if he’s going to receive his UK work permit. The early word is that Cameron won his appeal, according to Yanks Abroad’s Brian Sciaretta.

Cameron came prepared with letters of recommendation from US national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann and Houston Dynamo head coach Dominic Kinnear, who’s new to the process.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever done it,” Kinnear said. “You’re recommending him to play in the English Premier League, and you’re giving your reasons why and you give a brief history of your time with him and what you see are the assets and characteristic of him that would make him successful over there.”

The big news on Tuesday was the goalkeeper swap between the Portland Timbers and Montreal Impact. Who won? If you listen to Timbers GM and interim head coach Gavin Wilkinson, it was the guys in green, who parted ways with Troy Perkins and landed Donovan Ricketts.

“It’s an upgrade, in all honesty,” Wilkinson said after the team’s training session Tuesday. “Troy is a fantastic person and a great goalkeeper. He was a tremendous acquisition for the club two years ago. But when you sit down and you have staff meetings and you give everyone an active voice and the unanimous decision is this is what’s right for the club, you do what’s right for the club.”

Speaking of goalkeepers, talented young American Luis Robles appears headed to MLS via the allocation process. The New England Revolution, who carry veteran Matt Reis and young backup Bobby Shuttleworth, are on the clock.

The Columbus Crew returned to training on Tuesday for the first time since the sudden death of rookie Kirk Urso over the weekend, marking the first step in what will surely be a lengthy healing process. Players didn’t speak to the media after the session, but goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum summed up a solemn scene behind closed doors: “It was tough to go in and see Kirk’s locker.”

Here’s another report from Columbus on the Crew’s attempt to return to normalcy, and a look at the impact of Urso’s death.

Let’s bounce around the league, beginning in the nation’s capital, where D.C. United youngster Andy Najar is back with the club after his stint with Honduras in the Olympics. He says he holds no grudges about his exclusion from the team’s dramatic loss to Brazil.

And speaking of no grudges, what’s all the fuss between New York Red Bulls midfielder Joel Lindpere and head coach Hans Backe? Nothing, evidently, says the Estonian midfielder.

New Red Bulls star Tim Cahill, meanwhile, is expected to miss a friendly between his native Australia and Scotland next week as he continues to acclimate to his new club.

The New England Revolution brass met the media on Tuesday for the first time since cutting tempestuous Colombian forward Jose “Pepe” Moreno earlier this week, and GM Michael Burns summed up the personnel move simply: “When you bring in 15 or 16 players, you're not going to bat 1,000 percent and you're not going to get all 16 players right.”

Former Rev Shalrie Joseph, meanwhile, is in the middle of his first week of work with Chivas USA, and teammate Danny Califf is quick to pass along the word that everyone already knew about the newest member of the Goats: “He’s a beast.”

Switching quickly to the international scene, where it appears (not surprisingly) that Maurice Edu and Alejandro Bedoya indeed will not be a part of the new version of Scottish side Rangers FC. The club opened a new era on Tuesday, but manager Ally McCoist says Edu and Bedoya likely won’t play a part.

Still simmering about that US-Canada women’s game from the Olympics on Monday? So is the rest of the soccer world, apparently. A quick rundown of today’s storylines has the news that US striker Abby Wambach played a vital part in that controversial delay call by Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen on Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod.

And how about some more controversy? Evidently Canada’s Melissa Tancredi intentionally stomped on US star Carly Loyd in the 54th minute, evidenced by the video here. You be the judge.

There’s also news that at least one member of the Canadian team had a verbal altercation with Pedersen and her crew in the tunnel following the game.

What does it all add up to? Not much, according the folks at The Guardian, who only dubbed the game the Greatest Knockout Match in Major Tournament Football Since 1982. Really, that’s it?

One last note on the women, who face a World Cup redux in the final against Japan on Thursday. If you think the NBC mothership might carry the match then think again: it’s on the NBC Sports Network, and here’s one critic who’s ready to go all Melissa Tancredi on the network execs who made the call. (That’s right, the Kick Off just went all Kick Off on itself, so keep up).

The men’s final, if anyone cares about that, is also set as Mexico knocked off Japan on Tuesday and Brazil did the same to South Korea.

But evidently the bronze medal match between Japan and South Korea might have just as many storylines as the gold medal showdown. These two nations are not particularly fond of one another and have a bitter history when it comes so the sports world, and they’re both looking for a rare medal.

And last but not least, the newest FIFA Rankings are out, and England have somehow reached their highest point ever, at No. 3. The US are still stuck at No. 36.

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