Kick Off: Fire pair get up-close & personal with Falcao

Falcao - Kick Off

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There've been plenty of debates about how worthwhile those offseason training stints that have become part and parcel of the MLS experience actually are.

For 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year Austin Berry and fellow Chicago Fire backliner Jalil Anibaba, however, there's no doubt their recent trip to Atlético Madrid gave them more than just the usual to build upon. After all, they were thrown into practice with the first team, which means they got a chance to try their hand at something that nobody in the world has been able to do lately: namely, stopping Falcao.

Here's a brief look at their sojourn to the red and white part of Madrid, courtesy of our good friends at KICKTV (VIDEO).

Speaking of Falcao, the Colombian marksman came in sixth in The Guardian's latest list of the world's 100 best footballers. No, Deuce didn't make it. The No. 1 guy on that list, by the way, just scored his 91st (and final) goal of the 2012 calendar year. Leo Messi, ladies and gents.

Staying on that side of the pond, OPTA tracks some very advanced metrics, while also giving a look at some of the simpler ones as well. And it doesn't get much more straight forward than this: In the English Premier League, nobody's involved in a goal (via actually scoring, or getting the primary assist) more often than Manchester United's Javier "Chicharito" Hernández. With the March 26 Hexagonal date at the Azteca rapidly approaching, that'll have more than a few Yanks biting their nails just a bit.

Could Oguchi Onyewu make his way back into the US set-up for that game? The big central defender seems to have rediscovered his form, becoming a regular in Copa del Rey play and making the matchday squad for Saturday's 3-2 win over flailing Real Madrid. Regardless, though, if Gooch stays with Málaga, he won't be playing in the 2013-14 version of the UEFA Champions League. Gabriele Marcotti has the story of the whole sordid affair here.

In keeping with the American Exports theme, if you got up early on Sunday you saw Chelsea put a legendary 8-0 humiliation on poor Aston Villa, backstopped by Brad Guzan. Chelsea manager Rafa Benítez put it succinctly after the game: "I feel sorry for them."

Another Yank 'keeper in England, Brad Friedel, looks like he'll be staying there for a bit longer. The man with the most famous Midwest/Midlands accent going is reportedly set to continue on at Tottenham as Hugo Lloris' backup.

Also back in Europe is Didier Drogba, after the failed Shanghai Shenhua experiment. Also out of Shenhua is mercurial Frenchman (and Drogba's BFF) Nicolas Anelka, who left on his usual bad terms.

What's this got to do with MLS? Well, both players had been mentioned as Designated Player targets in the past, and with both officially out of contract, you can bet there'll be rumors popping up yet again. My take? "Yes" on Drogba, a million times "no" on Anelka. Unless you want your club to relive what the Red Bulls just went through with Rafa Márquez.

The Colorado Rapids were busy this weekend, shipping Jamaican international striker Omar Cummings to Houston for allocation money, Nathan Sturgis and a bit of cap room. And it looks like they've already got a target for said cap room, having closed in on young Chilean attacker Kevin Harbottle. Is this one of the guys ticketed to play wide in Oscar Pareja's 4-3-3? The folks at BurgundyWave say that seems possible.

As for the other end of the deal, the Dynamo sure seem pleased. And NBC ProSoccerTalk's Steve Davis sure likes the deal for the men in orange, as does some guy called the Armchair Analyst.

What are your top moments from MLS in 2012? Over the weekend our Stories of the Year series continued with Toronto FC's miserable start and subsequent overhaul placing ninth, followed by the always controversial Disciplinary Committee at No. 8.

Univision had a different take, though. Watch their top 10 moments from the year in MLS, courtesy of Empire of Soccer. (VIDEO)

Our Best of 2012 series is still chugging along, with New York's midfield utility man Dax McCarty claiming his spot as the Most Underrated Player of the Year. Coming up later on Monday, we'll have the year's biggest controversy.

SuperDraft chatter is also starting to buzz a bit. Take a look at the latest Soccer By Ives Mock Draft here.

Seattle got a new coach over the weekend as well. No, Sigi Schmid isn't suddenly on the outs with Drew Carey. It's actually the Seattle Reign, who tabbed Arsenal Ladies manager Laura Harvey as their boss for the inaugural NWSL season, who made headlines.

The Reign will be hard pressed to keep up with their southern neighbors, however. According to Portland Thorns (and Timbers!) owner Merritt Paulson, the Thorns already have more than 2,000 season-ticket holder deposits. Thanks to some good work by The Equalizer's Jeff Kassouf, it seems pretty clear that Portland's already outstripped any of the season-ticket holder bases that existed in WPS, the previous incarnation of top-flight women's soccer in the US.

On a more somber note, two American strikers paid tribute to the victims of the Newtown, Conn., shooting in their own ways. San Jose's Marcus Tracy, whose mother once taught at Sandy Hook Elementary, sat down with The Washington Post's Steven Goff and talked about growing up in Newtown, as well as the song he and some of his childhood friends put together in tribute. Jozy Altidore, meanwhile, wrote the names of each of the victims on his shoes in AZ Alkmaar's match this past weekend.

The Dynamo are doing their part, too. They've put together "Soccer Night in Newtown," set for Jan. 7.

And finally, a story of hope, social media and man's best friend. When the dog of Borussia Mönchengladbach's Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Bali, was hit by a car and subsequently "ran away in shock," the German international turned to Facebook for help in finding the little guy.

Hours later, 'keeper and puggle would be reuinted, with the little pooch not much worse for wear. "For us, it's the perfect Christmas fairy tale!" ter Stegen posted. "I wish you a Merry Christmas! Many, many thanks!"

MLSsoccer.com Musts

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