The Kick Off: Do the Portland Timbers have an MLS MVP in Diego Valeri?

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

1. GALAXY WIN CCL GAME – AND GROUP

The LA Galaxy became the first MLS team to officially reach the CONCACAF Champions League knockout stage in this campaign Wednesday night following a 3-0 win against Cartaginés down in Costa Rica (watch highlights here). The Galaxy didn’t even need Landon Donovan to do it, as teenage hero Jack McBean, Chandler Hoffman and Laurent Courtois all scored in the first half-hour to help LA coast to the win.

2. HOUSTON EASE TO HOME WIN

The Houston Dynamo also exerted control over their Champions League group Wednesday thanks to a comfortable 2-0 win at home against W Connection (watch highlights here). Goals from Bobby Boswell and rookie Jason Johnson handed the Dynamo the victory, meaning that Houston only need a single point to advance when they take on Árabe Unido in the final group game next month. The same is true for Sporting Kansas City following Olimpia’s 1-0 win over Real Estelí on Tuesday night.

3. PORTLAND PEOPLE PART 2

In an exclusive interview with PortlandTimbers.com, head coach Caleb Porter talks about a number of subjects including life in Portland, tactics and the road ahead. Are the Timbers a finished product? Not according to Porter: “We’re just scratching the surface of the level we can execute at.” As for superstar Argentine import Diego Valeri, could he have a chance at MVP? Says teammate Will Johnson: "He’s special, but he's so humble it’s ridiculous for as good as he is.”

4.  BUILDING A CULTURE IN NEW YORK

While winning a Supporters' Shield and an MLS Cup would be great, Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke is thinking long-term. He wants to build a culture and identity around the club that can set them up for more long-term sustained success rather than perhaps a flash-in-the-pan victory. Having played for the club himself, Petke is in a particularly strong position to understand the fans: “Of course they want nothing more than a championship,” he states in an interview with SI.com, before adding, “equally, they would want nothing more than to be proud of the players who are out there.”

5. TURF WAR

With Thierry Henry and Jámison Olave likely to sit out the Red Bulls crucial match against the Seattle Sounders on Sunday turf is once again on the minds of some fans in MLS. But is it fair to lump all turf fields in the same category? This comparison of just the three Cascadia stadiums shows that it’s not. Timbers owner Merritt Paulson also got a cheeky dig in at the Sounders turf on Wednesday in light of the news surrounding this weekend's matchup.

6. DC STADIUM TERMS AND CONDITIONS

Wednesday was a busy day for D.C. United in their quest to build a new stadium at Buzzard Point. Firstly, District officials and developer Akridge have agreed on the ground rules for a land swap. The first of at least three such deals the city needs to complete in order to acquire all the land it needs. Secondly, a briefing on the stadium plan in front of the DC Council turned into an extended question and answer session as council members expressed their concerns.

7. CAMILO MAKES HIS POINT

After a recent goal drought, Vancouver's Camilo Sanvezzo started last Saturday’s game against Montreal on the bench. But the young Brazilian responded in exactly the right way by scoring two goals in the final half-hour. Those two goals keep Sanvezzo in the Golden Boot race, but the forward is just focused on helping his team: “If I score goals, it’s OK. But just more focus is win the games.” And he might have to start the next game anyway, if Kenny Miller is indeed struggling with an injury.

8. I AM KLUTE

Chris Klute has quite rightly started to earn more and more plaudits after a breakout season with the Colorado Rapids. Where does the 22-year-old go from here? Could a place in the USMNT January camp be on the cards? And check out MLSsoccer.com Armchair Analyst Matthew Doyle looking at Klute and two other MLS defenders who could be the future of the US national team (complete with Eric Wynalda singing Klute's praises in the comments section).

9. TESTIMONIALS

Believe it or not, Brian Ching's testimonial in December will be the first of its kind in MLS. Sure, there was Kasey Keller’s send-off game in Seattle, where 64,140 fans came to say goodbye, but that was a competitive game. As this piece from Soccer America suggests, there have certainly been players in the past worthy of such a game and hopefully we’ll see more in the future.

10. US WAGES

It seems US national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has all the inspiration he needs to try and do well at the World Cup. While the German may say that the country needs to be realistic about where they finish, a bonus ranging from $500,000 to $10.5 million depending on progress will surely help light a fire. In contrast, can the head of the USWNT earn anywhere near as much? Check out the numbers.

11. "I’M STEVE ZAKUANI"

The Sounders midfielder made the gameday squad on Saturday for the first time in quite a while after another season that has been derailed by injury. Is he close to returning? One player whose spot he won’t likely be taking is Mauro Rosales, who explains one of the more unusual reasons being the team's playmaker can be a challenge.

12. AROUND THE WORLD

Looks like Jozy Altidore might have a new manager sooner rather than later. Whether he does or not and whether or not he feature in the new guys plans, maybe we don’t need to worry too much, as Altidore’s old club AZ Alkmaar are currently benefitting from the next potential big thing in US soccer: Aron Jóhannsson. The US international has now scored nine goals in 12 games across all competitions this season. Elsewhere, brothers Kevin and Michael Hoyos have set their sights on the USMNT, and the Argentine-Americans see MLS as a way to achieve that goal.

13. MORE ON ALTIDORE

It's never good to find your name branded with the words "Stuttering Signing," but that's where Altidore is today, according to the folks at at EPL Index. They're looking at four of the biggest offensive signings in the league – Altidore included  – and wondering why each newcomer has struggled to produce with his new club.

14. EGYPTIANS RETURNING HOME

The Egyptian national team, Bob Bradley and the country at large have been given a boost in their hopes of qualifying for the World Cup in November. The team will play in Cairo for the first time in more than two years with fans being given some respite from the turmoil in their country and allowed inside the stadium to watch. Expect the 30,000-capacity venue to be sold out and loud as the fans try and cheer their side to their first World Cup finals since 1990.

15. STRANGE PENALTY KICK

The video of the day comes from Belgium, where Hoogstraten's Glenn van der Linden misses this penalty kick attempt only to ... well, watch the video for yourself. You simply won't see this very often, if ever again.

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