Kick Off: Did Will Johnson play the role of instigator vs. Seattle Sounders?

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

1. PORTLAND RISE TO THE TOP

Following Sunday night’s 1-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders (watch highlights here), the Portland Timbers have moved to the top of the Western Conference and are tied on points with the New York Red Bulls for the Supporters' Shield (the Red Bulls hold the tiebreaker). Kalif Alhassan, making a rare start, got the only goal of the game in a result which boss Caleb Porter says puts an end to the Timbers' inferiority complex against the Sounders. To add insult to injury, the victory for Portland also hands this year’s Cascadia Cup to the Vancouver Whitecaps, their first since all three teams entered MLS. These may be troubling times for the Sounders but, according to Steve Zakuani, “The only way out of this is to stay together.”

2. RED ALERT

The play that cost the Sounders the most on Sunday night? A 74th-minute red card to midfielder Osvaldo Alonso, who was sent off for an elbow to the chin of Portland midfielder Will Johnson.  The card will not only sideline Alonso for the Sounders' road trip to Dallas next weekend, but could draw further penalty from the MLS Disciplinary Committee. Said Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid: “Will Johnson always seems to be at the other end of things. I don’t know what he says or what he does to instigate things.” Meanwhile, the Sounders are likely still fuming about a play in the first half, when Clint Dempsey was taken down by Timbers midfielder Diego Chará and suffered a separated shoulder.

3.  NEW ENGLAND STAY IN THE HUNT

The New England Revolution secured a vital 1-0 win Saturday night over the struggling Montreal Impact (watch highlights here), but it's tough to argue the match wasn't largely overshadowed by an early injury to Saer Sene. New England somehow found a way to get past Sene’s injury and secure the three points, leaving Revs midfielder Kelyn Rowe to state the obvious this time of year:  "It was a win or go home thing for us with the playoffs." The win brings New England just one point behind Montreal in the playoff race and the Impact, once leading contenders for the Supporters' Shield, now find themselves looking over their shoulder in fourth.

3. DC PLAY SPOILERS TO UNION'S HOPES

For a on Saturday it appeared D.C. United were going to pull off only their fourth win of the season and play true spoilers to the Philadelphia Union's chances of reaching the playoffs. But the Union managed to secure a 1-1 draw (watch highlights here) on the back of a cathartic goal from striker Jack McInerney that  broke a scoreless streak lasting 133 days. D.C. United were punished for failing to finish their chances, with head coach Ben Olsen acknowledging, “We’ve seen this before.” The point was enough to bring the Union back level on points with Montreal, and McInerney is ready to do his part in the final games: “Now that I got this one, hopefully they can keep coming.” The draw also secured a playoff spot for Sporting Kansas City.

4. CHICAGO END FC DALLAS' HOPES

It was a tale of vastly different fortunes following the Chicago Fire’s 3-2 victory over FC Dallas on Saturday (watch highlights here). FCD were officially eliminated from the playoff race, leaving players and staff wondering where things went wrong after such a bright start to the season, and forward David Ferreira felt the need to apologize to the fans. For Chicago, despite not making things easy for themselves, a place in the playoffs is theirs to take. It's a remarkable turnaround from a team that started the year as one of the worst in MLS.

5. US FINISHING STRONG

The US national team took care of business in their final home game of the CONCACAF Hexagonal on Friday night with a 2-0 victory over Jamaica. Goals from Jozy Altidore and substitute Graham Zusi helped secure the three points, won the Hex and also meant the US finished the qualifying campaign with five wins out of five on home soil. So, what three things did we learn from the performance at Sporting Park? The US have also confirmed their opponent for their final match of 2013.

6. HALL OF FAME

Ahead of Friday’s clash at Sporting Park, two all-time greats were inducted into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame. For Peter Vermes, he reflected emotionally on a career that has brought him right where he wants to be, while the honor has inspired fellow entrant Joe-Max Moore, who sees now as the right time to get back into the game.

7. CHANGES IN THE SQUAD

Jurgen Klinsmann has made some changes to the squad ahead of Tuesday's game against Panama. Landon Donovan has returned to the Galaxy, Brad Guzan has earned this third start in goal of the Hex, and Jermaine Jones has gone back to Europe. And while the World Cup may still be eight months away, the conversation about who will make next summer’s squad is only going to get louder from here on out. Inevitably there will be some disappointments and surprises in the selections, and The Guardian looks at some from previous tournaments.

8. MAKING HIS WAY BACK

Alejandro Bedoya, currently establishing himself at French side Nantes, has started five of the previous six games for the USMNT. It’s a long way from the place he found himself in just one year ago.

9. WONDER GOAL KEEPS MEXICO ALIVE

With the clock ticking down and the score tied at 1-1, things seemed to be lost for Mexico. Then Raúl Jiménez popped up and did this. The game finished 2-1 and Mexico look almost certain to secure at least fourth place heading into their final game against Costa Rica. If they do finish fourth they might also be interested to know that their intercontinental opponent New Zealand were held to a draw by Chivas USA. While a Jerry Bengtson goal gave Honduras an important late win as well, how did other MLS players get on?

10. CHANGING TIMES FOR COLUMBUS ROOKIES

For Columbus Crew Rookies Wil Trapp and Chad Barson, their first season in MLS has been quite a departure from their time playing college ball for Akron. As the two are learning, it’s how they deal with the change that matters. Meanwhile, the Crew have stated that reports of the club adding Costa Rican defender Waylon Francis to the team are “completely premature.”

11. FROM THE LIONS' MOUTH

Orlando City are potentially just one hurdle away from becoming the latest MLS expansion franchise. With that in mind, team president Phil Rawlins sat down with the Orlando Sentinel for an interview in which he discussed timetables and potential roster changes as the team moves forward.

12. TIME FOR NEW FOCUS IN CANADA

With news that Canada is still planning to bid on the 2026 World Cup, Kurt Larson at the Toronto Sun wonders if the country doesn’t have more important things to focus on first. While developing Canadian talent must be a priority, Toronto FC need more than just that, and Ryan Nelsen is spending this week doing a bit of scouting.

13. RED BULL UK?

The New York Red Bulls might be moving one step closer to being like their future neighbours NYCFC. A report has surfaced that suggests the Red Bulls' parent company is looking to add an English soccer team to its sports portfolio. Can you see it happening?

14. AUSTRALIA FIRE COACH AHEAD OF CANADA CLASH

Following a 6-0 drubbing at the hands of France on Friday night, the latest in a recent series of worrying results, Australia made the decision to fire coach Holger Osieck , a choice that provoked a strong reaction from Aussie talisman and New York Red Bull Tim Cahill. Australia take on Canada in England on Tuesday, a match that will bring back painful memories for some Canadians, and one Canadian youngster reflects on the experience of his first international call-up.

15. MAKING FRIENDS

Moving to a foreign country with a new language and different culture can be a daunting task for any player, but for Latin American players such as Johnny Leverón, arriving in Vancouver is made easier by one special man.

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