Kick Off: Will Gold Cup offer up a fourth straight USA vs. Mexico final?

Here are the Top 15 soccer stories we’re following today.

1. CAN HONDURAS OR PANAMA SPRING SURPRISE? Will it be USA vs. Mexico in the Gold Cup final on Sunday in Chicago? That's the question that will be on everyone's mind Wednesday night, when the semifinal doubleheader is played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas (7 pm ET, Fox Soccer/UniMas, live chat on MLSsoccer.com). The USMNT gets things kicked off against Honduras followed by an intriguing Mexico vs. Panama matchup. The US match will be particularly special for LA Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez, who hails from Dallas and will get to play in front of his family.

2. WHICH US PLAYERS HAVE BOOKED THEIR TICKET TO BRAZIL? This Gold Cup was always going to be an important one for a handful of players on the fringes of the USMNT's "A" team. Find out which players have helped their case the most in this tournament and whether they did enough to enter Klinsmann's 23-man World Cup squad with less than a year until Brazil 2014.

3. SPORTING KC TO SNATCH HONDURAS MIDFIELDER? While you're watching tonight's match between the USA and Honduras, pay special attention to the No. 20 in the blue and white. His name is Jorge Claros and he's a 27-year-old two-way central midfielder for Motagua who has recently played on loan in Scotland. And he's apparently on Sporting Kansas City's radar. The player himself admits, "I don't have any problem going to Kansas."

4. SKC SIGN VERMES TO EXTENSION WITH BIG PLANS IN MIND: It's not just "a bunch of championships" that Sporting KC brass is looking for by extending the contract of manager Peter Vermes through 2017. There's another big part of the plan, which part-owner Robb Heineman does not keep secret: "I think having a real world-class youth organization program is important,” Heineman said. “Peter’s got the skill set to do and he’s proven it in the draft and developing players here … Extending that to the youth level is going to be really important step for us.”

5. CHICAGO FIRE UNVEIL NEWEST DESIGNATED PLAYER: He's from Ecuador and his name is Juan Luis Anangonó. That much you probably already gathered by now. And the Fire are praying he becomes the next Álvaro Saborío or Eddie Johnson. "Let's hope he turns out to be one of those guys," said Fire president Javier Leon. As for Anangonó, he hopes the move gets him on his national team for the World Cup.

6. MONTREAL ALSO JOIN DP CONVO: It wasn't only Chicago claiming the Designated Player headlines on Tuesday. Montreal signed Argentine midfielder Hernán Bernardello, who the Impact believe "fits in well with the identity of the club." But he's not off to the best of starts: Today's introductory press conference was shelved because the player is suffering "from serious flu-like symptoms."

7. MLS DISCIPLINARY COMMITTEE DISHES OUT SUSPENSIONS: Real Salt Lake's Chris Wingert and FC Dallas forward Eric Hassli were involved in two of the most talked-about incidents of Week 21 and yesterday they received their punishment. Watch the plays here and see how the Disicplinary Committee came down on both plays.

8. PORTLAND TIMBERS HOST NORWICH CITY: While the Dynamo will take on Mark Hughes & Co., the Timbers will be welcoming the Canaries at JELD-WEN Field (11 pm ET). Norwich's Wes Hoolahan asked former teammate Kei Kamara about playing at JELD-WEN and "he did say that it is fantastic to play there in front of the fans, who create a great atmosphere.”

9. HOUSTON DYNAMO FACE STOKE CITY TONIGHT AT BBVA: Some may see tonight's match as the "new" Stoke City vs. the "old" Stoke City (9 pm ET). But USMNT fans will be most interested to see ex-Dynamo player Geoff Cameron take the field under new Stoke coach Mark Hughes. Where will he play – defender or midfielder? “I’ll be looking [on Wednesday] to play Geoff in a number of positions that I feel he’s accomplished at,” Hughes told media. “Maybe [right back is] where he still ends up but I need to get a better understanding of his capabilities in other positions as well.”

10. KENNY MILLER LOOKING FORWARD TO THE "AULD ENEMY": Apparently that's the accepted name for England in Scottish territory. The Vancouver Whitecaps forward has dreams of scoring the winning goal at Wembley when he re-joins Scotland (with the Whitecaps' permission, of course): "The chance to play in a game of this size against the Auld Enemy is important," says Miller. The Scottish press also reveals that Miller is on the verge of penning a new deal with the Whitecaps and that Rangers FC apparently have 48 hours to swoop in.

11. D.C. UNITED's CONOR DOYLE TO PLAY FOR IRELAND OR USA? The newest addition to D.C. United represented both nations in his youth days and in this Q&A with The Washington Post he admits where his allegiances really lie: "The [Irish] national anthem is playing and I don’t know the words. I felt like I belonged playing for America, if they wanted me." By the way, he also would be happy to remain in MLS at the end of the year.

12. "SIDELINE" ENTERTAINMENT: If you didn't catch yesterday's entries in "The Sideline" blog by MLSsoccer.com's own Andy Edwards, you missed out on a lot: There's the Peter Vermes suit jacket you have to see to believe, full details on Bruce Arena's autograph collection and the most unlikely of soccer guests on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

13. POWER BROKERS: Given the parity we've seen at the top, it's never been a more interesting week to compare the various MLS Power Rankings around the league. So check out how MLSsoccer.com's version matches up with Yahoo's, Soccer America's, NBC's Pro Soccer Talk, SI.com's list and the Bleacher Report.

14. COSTA RICA'S LOSS IS THE CREW'S GAIN: Columbus manager Robert Warzycha is happy to see Costa Rican national team striker Jairo Arrieta rejoin the club, which has only been able to win one of their last five matches. Arrieta is expected to be with the club for its Trillium Cup showdown on Saturday in Toronto (2 pm ET, MLS Stream of the Week). “[Arrieta] is a guy that scored nine goals last season,” Warzycha told the Columbus Dispatch. “That’s a guy I’m missing.”

15. SOCCER ON THE TUBE: Aside from the Gold Cup semifinals, there are two other big international matchups that will have everyone's attention. In the early afternoon we'll see the highly anticipated Bayern Munich vs. Barcelona preseason match where Pep Guardiola goes up against his old team (12:30 pm ET, GolTV). Meanwhile, the Copa Libertadores trophy will be hoisted today by either Atlético Mineiro or Olimpia of Paraguay (8:30 pm ET, Fox Deportes). Ronaldinho's Atlético will have some work to do.

MLSsoccer.com Musts

Team of the Week: Defenders responsible for goal outage

Report: Toronto FC looking to upgrade BMO Field

Save of the Week: Vote for the best stop of Week 21

 


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