Kick Off: RSL get a taste of deja-vu in Champions League

It felt like April 2011 all over again.

Last night, Real Salt Lake piled the pressure on Costa Rican champs Herediano, just like they did in that CONCACAF Champions League final against Monterrey last year, but they couldn’t find the back of the net despite several good chances and they succumbed to CCL elimination after a 0-0 draw (watch the highlights here).

And just like that time against Monterrey, RSL forward Fabián Espíndola was shouldering the blame for the missed chances: “I had my chance, I didn't score and the defense played really good. I think it's a little bit of my fault in that case.”

But manager Jason Kreis was a lot more upbeat although the injury to defender Chris Schuler has him worried: "Really, really proud of the men out there. At halftime, I told them their performance was spectacular," Kreis said. "We did all the things that we need to do to win these big games, except for that final touch. I really felt like it would come tonight, and I'm a little bit shocked that it didn't."

Kreis didn’t have kind words for a Herediano side that tried to milk as much of the clock as possible: “I expected Herediano to come out and play a little more soccer tonight,” he said. “Faking injuries. For me, it’s ugly."

RSL midfielder Will Johnson was also critical of the visitors: "Yeah, it’s standard when you play these teams," he said. "Diving. Time-wasting. You know exactly what you’re going to get. They think that’s a good way to play."

It wasn’t looking good at one point for the Houston Dynamo, who found themselves down 1-0 at home to Honduran side Olimpia and outplayed in the first half. But they scored a goal on a set piece and held on for the tie that took them into the quarterfinal round (watch the full highlights here).

It was one of those chippy CONCACAF affairs dotted with referee controversy and Dynamo manager Dominic Kinnear was even tossed from the game before halftime: “I was definitely frustrated with the way things were handled in the first half, and I couldn't control my emotions.”

Toronto FC need a miracle tonight in Mexico if they’re to join Houston in the knockout stages (8 pm ET, Fox Soccer, Sportsnet One and Univision Deportes 2). They have to beat last year’s finalists Santos Laguna by a 3-0 scoreline or by a difference of two goals if they can score four or more.

"We can't go stupid. We can't just go all out attack ... because you can see in a split-second they can open you up,” TFC head coach Paul Mariner said. “Obviously it's going to be difficult, but like I said to the guys this morning, it's 11 blokes against 11 blokes so let's get after it."

The Seattle Sounders, who have already booked their ticket to the quarterfinals, play immediately following the latest installment of the TFC-Santos rivalry as they host CD Marathón in what will be goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann’s debut for the club (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer).

The Sounders as well as the Galaxy may have already advanced from their respective CCL groups, but there is seeding to play for if they want to avoid quarterfinal matchups against the Mexican qualifiers.

One of those Mexican clubs could be eliminated later today as UANL Tigres play for their CCL lives against Costa Rica’s Alajuelense (10 pm ET, Galavision).

The LA Galaxy are in action on Thursday in El Salvador, but don’t blame them if they’re already looking ahead to the MLS playoffs and specifically a potential conference semifinal matchup with San Jose. The Earthquakes stoked the flames and snapped back at LA’s Omar Gonzalez: “I was offended by [what Gonzalez said],” defender Justin Morrow said. “I’m sure we’re going to see him again soon.”

But hey, don’t forget about the Vancouver Whitecaps, who visit the Home Depot Center for the Western Conference Knockout Round on Nov. 1: “We’ve got to go into their place and cause havoc and disrupt their rhythm,” said Whitecaps goalkeeper Brad Knighton. “We could turn some heads.”

In the meantime LA hope to have Landon Donovan and David Beckham back in time for the regular season finale against the Seattle Sounders on Sunday. “I think for David and Landon to start getting some minutes is important before the real work starts the following week,” said LA assistant Dave Sarachan.

You have to wonder if the LA Galaxy are left contemplating future players to replace Donovan after his ESPN.com interview yesterday in which he talked about using the upcoming offseason to decide his future. And the Sporting News’ Brian Straus defends Donovan’s right to quit the game in spite of all his critics.

There’s no quit in Sporting Kansas City, who tonight want to clinch the top spot in the Eastern Conference in their regular-season finale against the Philadelphia Union (8:30 pm ET, NBC Sports Network). D.C. United fans meanwhile, will be rooting for a loss to give them hope of clinching the top seed in the East.

SKC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen is gunning to tie the MLS record for shutouts in a season, but the club is expecting a battle against a Philadelphia Union team that beat them a 4-0 defeat back on June 23 at PPL Park. “We’ve never had it easy against Philly anyway since they came into the league,” said Sporting’s Roger Espinoza.

Well, Sporting’s hunch may be about right if we’re to judge from this statement made by Philly midfielder Michael Lahoud: “I really don’t want this season to end because I personally have a vendetta,” Lahoud said. “We are playing two teams that we can prove a lot against and when those games are done and we’ve proved it, then I can rest. Right now, I can’t do that.”

Big news in the coaching ranks this morning. A report from Soccer By Ives indicates that Toronto FC has tried to lure Orlando City manager Adrian Heath to be Paul Mariner’s chief assistant and eventually take over the club. Heath apparently said “no thanks” and re-signed at Orlando.

Here’s what Heath had to say: “I am delighted that we have been able to reach an agreement on a new contract. … I am looking forward to building on the two regular season titles we have already won and in playing my part in helping Orlando achieve its goal of MLS.”

As with every Wednesday in the Kick Off, we lay out the various Power Rankings from media outlets around the league: MLSsoccer.com, NBC’s Pro Soccer Talk, SB Nation, The Seattle Times, The Oregonian and Soccer America.

Freddy Adu has an idea about who the Philadelphia Union should go after if they want to move up those Power Rankings: “It wouldn’t hurt for us to have a couple veteran guys on the team, as well. And they don’t necessarily have to be strikers, either.”

It was a goalkeeper who took home a massive haul at Columbus Crew awards ceremony yesterday. Andy Gruenebaum may have been the most recognized player, but the night belonged to Kirk Urso and his family. A new award to be voted on by the Crew players, the Kirk Urso Heart award, was unveiled and Urso’s dad urged parents to spend time with their kids: “I never thought that would be the last hug I had from Kirk.”

Former Philadelphia Union No. 1 SuperDraft pick Danny Mwanga was embraced by his hometown Portland, but he’s not thrilled about how it’s turned out this year on the field: "I’m not here just to be in Portland. I came here to play. I want to play. That’s my job, and that’s the number one thing that I’m here for. Not being able to play, it is frustrating.”

There’s more UEFA Champions League action on the tube today as American Sacha Kljestan and Anderlecht travel to face Zenit St. Petersburg (noon ET, Fox Soccer and Fox Deportes). Later on it’s Ajax vs. Manchester City (2:30 pm ET, Fox Soccer) and Borussia Dortmund vs. Real Madrid (2:30 pm ET, Fox Soccer Plus and Fox Deportes).

Meanwhile, perennial UEFA Champions League participants Manchester United are opening an office in the United States: “The US we view as a really good opportunity,'' said one club exec. ''There is real value there we believe from media deals, merchandising and sponsorship deals.”

Staying with international soccer, here’s a New York Times story on the final day of action in the first season of the Afghan Premier League. The Taliban apparently stopped one fan on the way: “They would have killed us! We said we were going to the doctor.”

As the World Series plays Game 1 tonight between the Detroit Tigers and San Francisco Giants, here’s something to help you figure out who to root for: D.C. United owner Will Chang owns part of the Giants. “My dream come true …. MLS Cup and WS Trophy” is what he tweeted.

And if you don’t like baseball, here’s one story you are sure to like. FC Dallas goalkeeper Chris Seitz puts his professional career aside to help someone after he finds out he is the best match for a bone marrow transplant.

"This has been a huge struggle, but to be the person I want to be, I had to do this. I wouldn't change it for the world,” he said. “And I hope that others would do the exact same thing."

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