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Kick Off: Seattle Sounders, Real Salt Lake clash again with playoff implications on the line

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

1. USA CLIMB RANKINGS

Thursday saw the release of the latest FIFA world rankings, and the US have climbed to No. 13, placing them higher than both England (17) and Russia (15). Mexico, meanwhile, have dropped just outside the top 20, sitting at No. 21. Costa Rica are up nine places to 33rd, overtaking Panama, who themselves are up five places to 35th. Honduras are 40th, Jamaica are 78th and Canada have dropped 15 places and are stuck way down at 106th. The rankings have added importance right now as they will likely affect how the US are grouped in December's World Cup draw. Meanwhile, Egypt (No. 50) and Bob Bradley face one final test before they can advance to that draw, and it looks like it’s a tough one.

2. MEXICO’S NEW MAN

Introducing Victor Manuel Vucetich, the new man in charge of the Mexican national team and the man tasked with helping El Tri reach Brazil next summer. Some MLS fans, particularly those from Real Salt Lake, may already be familiar with Vucetich from his time as manager of Monterrey, but the new man in charge has received backing from USMNT legends Tab Ramos and Eric Wynalda, with the latter stating, “The guy is just flat-out genius.”

3. LEBANON OR THE USA?

Soony Saad is currently trying to establish himself as a first-choice striker for Sporting Kansas City, but the forward also seems to have an eye on his international future. “Technically I’m not bound to any team, so I don’t know,” Saad said of the fact that he has appeared in a friendly for Lebanon but, following the success of the USMNT, he wants a bite of the World Cup pie.

4. QUAKES STADIUM DELAYED AGAIN?

Looks like fans might have to wait a little bit longer to see the San Jose Earthquakes' new stadium in action. Having been set to open at the start of next season, the project has already been delayed once and now new reports suggest that the facility will not open until 2015 following further hold-ups. Earthquakes officials have not commented on the story but said there will be an official announcement next week.

5. HUGE MATCHUP OUT WEST

More than 52,000 are reportedly expected for a big matchup between the Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake on Friday night (10 pm ET, NBCSN), and the storylines are pretty juicy. Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson are back in Sounders camp following a wild week with the USMNT, and it looks like the Sounders might have their first-choice lineup for the first time this season. RSL, meanwhile, aren't terribly worried about the crowd on Friday and are, according to NBC Sports' Kyle Martino, still the better team of the two.

6. HAPPY EDDIE

I’m happy here and my heart is in Seattle,” says Eddie Johnson when asked about his "pay me" celebration from a couple of weeks ago, something the Sounders forward admits may have been a mistake.

7. THE RETURN OF ZAKUANI

Seems like the Sounders might be close to getting Steve Zakuani back. The midfielder has had the worst luck possible with injuries and hasn’t featured for the Sounders since June. If he gets healthy and rediscovers his form, does he help Seattle going into the playoffs? Another player ready for the Sounders to call on him is Andy Rose, who is finding life a little tougher in his second year. Meanwhile, FC Dallas get set to welcome back another long-term absentee.

8. THE BEST IS YET TO COME

So where exactly does Friday night's Seattle-RSL game stack up against some of the best regular-season games left this year? MLSsoccer.com's Nicholas Rosano gives it a go, looking at the 10 best games left this fall that will decide the playoff race.

9. D.C. UNITED MAKING A STAND

D.C. United are set to team up with the District of Columbia in order to promote an insurance exchange tied to President Obama’s health care law. The DC Health Link will be promoted during the October 4 match against the Chicago Fire, the President's hometown team. Before that, however, D.C. United have the equally important job of celebrating one of the club's all-time greatest players.

10. LEAGUE DESIGNATED PLAYER

There was a whole lot of controversy on Monday following reports that referred to Max Urruti as a “League Designated Player,” something that turned out not to exist. Yet, is there an argument that such a title, in the right circumstances, might not be such a bad thing at all?

11. GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE

For the young MLS academy players who were part of Canada’s recent excursion to Spain, its back to normalcy now and, while the results may not have been great, the experience itself has given them all something to aim towards in the future. Jackson Farmer, part of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC Residency, made his senior debut despite not having signed a senior contract yet and knows, “ I just have to keep improving … and keeping sure that [Canada head coach Benito Floro] is keeping tabs on me.”

12. REWARDING INVESTMENT

When Diego Fagundez scored his 10th goal of the season last Sunday, he became the first Homegrown MLS player to accomplish the feat. Fagundez is just one of a growing number of young stars making a mark in the league, and Kyle McCarthy at FoxSoccer.com examines how MLS clubs are being rewarded for their investments.

13. YOUNGSTERS ABROAD

Speaking of talented kids, what about all those Americans trying to make their way in Europe? MLSsoccer.com's Greg Seltzer takes a look at some of the players looking to break through to the next level in Europe, with all eyes on West Ham United's Sebastian Lleget.

14. GOING TO OXFORD

File this under the “where are they now” category, but former New England general manager Craig Tornberg has a new club. Tornberg (who you may remember for tackling a man on a plane) will become the new general manager and director of global business for Oxford City FC in England.

15. DANCE, DANCE, REVOLUTION

So we come to the end of the week in which the USA qualified for the 2014 World Cup. As such, what better way could there be to sign off for the week than with this: Frankie Hejduk celebrating in perhaps the only way we should all celebrate ... dance off!

MLSsoccer.com Musts

ExtraTime Radio: Carlos Bocanegra discusses his USMNT future

Three for Thursday: Why Seattle vs RSL could be the biggest game of the year

WATCH: The Scouting Report disects Seattle vs. Real Salt Lake