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Kick Off: MLS clubs to play big role when new women's league launches?

Soccer fans have a very real reason to be thankful today: A new professional women’s soccer league is coming.

In a move to safeguard North America as the world’s premier women’s soccer destination, the US Soccer Federation announced an eight-team league will begin play in April 2013.

USSF President Sunil Gulati revealed the plans — which include a franchise fronted by the Portland Timbers organization — and said more MLS franchises could join the league with a women’s team: "Since announcing the league, we've had a number of phone calls and inquiries and at least one or two of those have been from MLS."

ESPN.com’s Jeff Carlisle looks at the new league (which has yet to be named) and how its business model should provide a more stable and sustainable environment for women’s soccer than the previous two attempts at a women's pro soccer league in the US.

The US, Mexican and Canadian soccer federations joined together to create the league, with the governing bodies agreeing to help pay some of the player wages for national team players, to reduce the cost for franchise owners.

For more explanation on how the league will function, the Los Angeled Times takes up the story.

The US, Mexican and Canadian federations were also busy on the men's side, as the draw for the CONCACAF U-20 Championship took place.

The tournament, which doubles as qualifying for the U-20 World Cup, will take place in Puebla, Mexico, Feb. 18 through March 2. The four semifinalists will earn berths in the 2013 World Cup in Turkey next June and July.

The US got a tricky draw, with Costa Rica and Haiti, while Canada will face the more favorable duo of Cuba and Nicaragua. US U-20 head coach Tab Ramos will be using 2011’s failure to qualify for the World Cup as extra motivation for his side. Canadian manager Nick Dasovic says his squad "have to" win their group. 

With MLS Cup fast approaching, injured striker Calen Carr could make a comeback for Houston. And on Wednesday, the Dynamo announced they would head to Charleston, S.C., for the Carolina Challenge Cup during preseason. See what other MLS teams will join them here.

And unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know LA's David Beckham announced he will leave the Galaxy after MLS Cup 2012. On Tuesday, LA teammate Landon Donovan once again spoke about his relationship with Beckham: “It's been an inspiration for me. We haven't always gotten along, especially in the beginning, but he's a good person.”

The circus surrounding Beckham's next destination continues to roll. EPL side West Ham United have focused their interest in the Galaxy midfielder, with Hammers boss Sam Allardyce hoping Beckham fancies a return to his East London roots. And even struggling Real Madrid are reportedly trying to persuade Becks to make an emotional return to the Bernabéu.

But Beckham isn't the only player leaving MLS. Most notably, D.C. United are parting ways with Branko Boskovic. The Montenegrin playmaker cited family reasons for leaving United. The Washington Post's Steven Goff breaks down the DP's struggles in the nation's capital.

Elsewhere, FC Dallas veteran Daniel Hernandez is staying in Texas, after Schellas Hyndman offered him a place on the FCD coaching staff. 

“Being able to play out the past four seasons of my MLS career in front of my friends and family here in Dallas has been very memorable,” Hernandez said. “I am excited to start the next phase of my MLS career with FC Dallas.”

At Sporting KC, where midfielder Júlio César turned down a coaching position and opted to move on, there is a player potentially on the way in: South African Elrio van Heerden is on trial, according to reports.

In New York, new sporting director Andy Roxburgh is keen on allowing Red Bulls Academy talents to flourish, with a renewed emphasis on domestic and local talent set to thrive at RBA. 

“You try as best you can to have local identity maybe at the core,” Roxburgh said. “And then you add on the icing on the cake, you can add on the international personalities.”

Elsewhere in MLS, adding internationals seems to be the way to go. Jay Heaps and the New England Revolution have already been busy in the offseason adding midfielders Andy Dorman and Kalifa Cissé. And now the Revs are reportedly interested in bringing in a Honduran midfielder.

New England veteran ‘keeper Matt Reis has been using the offseason to hone his cooking skills. Watch Reis make gnocchi and indulge in kitchen banter with local top chef Liz Bramwell.

Some younger MLS stars should get used to eating gnocchi and other European delicacies, as they head for offseason training stints with some of Europe’s biggest sides. See this updated list of who’s going where across the pond.

Staying in the Old World, plenty of Americans saw UEFA Champions League action on Wednesday, starting with Jermaine Jones and Schalke, who were pushing to get to the knockout stage. Sacha Kjlestan’s Anderlecht side fell to AC Milan 3-1, with this incredible bicycle kick from Philippe Mexes stealing the show.

Staying with the UCL, defending champs Chelsea made a quick appointment after firing manager Roberto Di Matteo on Wednesday. Former Valencia, Liverpool and Inter Milan boss Rafa Benítez has been placed in charge until the end of the season.

And Benítez may have a Chelsea legend joining him at the Bridge, with Didier Drogba wanting an offseason loan move from current club Shanghai Shenhua.

MLSsoccer.com Musts

LISTEN: March to the Match hands out their own 2012 awards

Postcard from Europe: Taylor at home after MLS struggles

WATCH: Cast your vote for AT&T Goal of the Year


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