Kick Off: Herculez taunts Toronto ahead of CCL clash

That's just Herculez being Herculez.

A few months ago, when Santos Laguna dashed Toronto FC’s CONCACAF Champions League hopes with a resounding victory in the semifinals, striker Herculez Gomez was the main antagonist. Well, the US international is back at his antagonistic best ahead of the rematch, a group-stage clash on Tuesday at BMO Field (8 pm ET, FOX Soccer in USA, SportsNet One in Canada).

For Toronto, the CCL represents a shot at redemption in what has been a horrible MLS season. “Every single game is a cup final for us,” manager Paul Mariner said. “Every single game we want to show people what we can do.”

Mariner should have midfielder Torsten Frings, who was rested over the weekend, and striker Eric Hassli (back spasms) back in his lineup. The importance of this match has not been lost on Hassli: “We have to win the game, we have to win on home field.”

Frings and Hassli will help, but a few others might be the keys to Toronto’s success. After impressing against Houston over the weekend, new center back Darren O’Dea and young Bermudan goalkeeper Freddy Hall are expected to get starting nods again on Tuesday night.

In MLS news, word came on Monday afternoon that New England, despite fielding calls from various teams, had acquired former MLS All-Star Juan Toja via the allocation process.

The Revs still have to wait for Toja’s paperwork to clear, so it’s unsure if he will be available for their midweek home match against Chivas USA (8 pm ET, MLS LIVE). But no one would be watching Toja anyway, because the match marks the return of former captain Shalrie Joseph to Gillette Stadium. As this article points out, the Revs have not earned a single point since trading Joseph to the Goats.

For Chivas, Joseph won’t be the focal point. But young attacker Tristan Bowen could be. He somehow impressed head coach Robin Fraser in last weekend’s 6-2 home loss to Seattle. But Bowen himself was unimpressed with his team’s defense. “We had a few moments in the game where we were down by maybe one and we let some easy goals in, so that killed us,” he said.

Philadelphia head coach John Hackworth seems still unimpressed with Freddy Adu’s consistency. He gave the midfielder only eight minutes last week, but Adu is doing his best to take it in stride. “Sure, it’s hard,” Adu said. “But you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do and help the team.”

On Wednesday, Philly host one of the hottest teams in MLS: the Columbus Crew (8 pm ET, MLS LIVE). That’s right, the Crew. They’re on a roll, thanks to new DP Federico Higuain. Somehow, the Argentine’s two-goal performance — one of the goals is up for AT&T Goal of the Week — bucked the conventional wisdom that says a hat trick will win you the Player of the Week award.

For all of Higuain’s recent contributions, goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum has been important all season. He should be back from injury on Wednesday.

Before we move on, one final statistical note on the Crew: They have yet to lose since midfielder Kirk Urso’s death, going 2-0-2 in their last four.

New York’s Dax McCarty has been looking at the stats, too, in particular, the Red Bulls’ struggles when they give up the first goal. “That’s been our Achilles’ heel all season,” he said.

The Red Bulls travel to D.C. United on Wednesday for an Eastern Conference crunch clash (8 pm ET, Galavision). It won’t be easy to get a win at RFK: United are on a 12-game home unbeaten streak, just one shy of the club record, set in 2007.

United should have starters Dwayne De Rosario, Chris Pontius, and Branko Boskovic back in the lineup. While New York will have Thierry Henry back. But the Red Bulls won’t have Icelandic midfielder Victor Palsson, who is going on loan to a club in the Netherlands.

Out in Portland, more news is emerging about the reported offer to Caleb Porter to be the next Timbers manager. It seems the University of Akron head coach has been in the loop in Portland for some time now, including being consulted about the Troy Perkins trade earlier this month.

Also in that report is the news that Timbers owner Merritt Paulson has decided not to raise ticket prices next year, leaving a hefty sum on the table because “it just doesn’t feel right.” Likewise, Porter, if he were to accept the Timbers’ offer, would have to pay a hefty sum in order to break his contract with Akron.

Portland’s last match was a win over Vancouver. In the game, Whitecaps rookie Darren Mattocks picked up a red card, which made manager Martin Rennie question his young star’s tackling technique. “You always back your players and I think Darren’s a fantastic player with a bright future,” Rennie said, “but this is something that he has to clean up.”

Another young player saw his bright future take a hit on Monday. Sporting Kansas City striker Teal Bunbury has been ruled out for the rest of the season after tearing his ACL in Sunday’s draw with New York.

Could Sporting KC lose another important player soon? EPL side Wigan Athletic are reportedly in the hunt for midfielder Roger Espinoza after the Honduran international’s starring role at the Olympics.

Staying in England, perhaps no one is in the hunt for Fulham hitman Clint Dempsey. This report says, contrary to the rumors, that the Cottagers have received no offers for the US international.

There might be a few offers down the road for young American Will Packwood, who has impressed at Birmingham City. The 19-year-old left home at 14 to join the club’s academy. “It came down to a family discussion to weigh the factors including education, social life, family separation and obviously the opportunity to play in England,” he said.

Academies are becoming more important in MLS, too. And the LA Galaxy academy coaching staff has brought in some impressive firepower.

Speaking of former MLSers now in the youth coaching ranks, one of the best is Roy Lassiter, who coaches San Diego club Albion SC. He’s got a good bit of advice for all the parents out there: “I think we get too many people who are extremely involved and then it becomes very political,” said Lassiter. “Decisions are made at that point that are not in the best interest of the player, which is the wrong way to go.”

And finally, we leave you with this humorous tidbit about US goalkeeper Hope Solo's 85-year-old grandmother, Alice Shaw. Seems Solo's netminding talents run in the family.  

MLSsoccer.com Musts

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Rosales rediscovering his form as Seattle tattoo the nets

TV Listings: Where to watch MLS and CCL this week 


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