Kick Off: Semifinals set as MLS Cup Playoffs ramp up following heated Knockout Round

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

1. HOUSTON CRUISE PAST MONTREAL

It must be the playoffs, as the Houston Dynamo came alive on Thursday evening to sail past the Montreal Impact and book their place in the Eastern Conference Semifinals with a 3-0 win (watch highlights here). It was a match marred late on by some disgraceful scenes from Montreal players, but the Impact are choosing to look at their lackluster play rather than the three cards for their overall failure. The Dynamo on the other hand were left to rave about the return to form of Will Bruin. So, what three things did our very own Armchair Analyst take away from this result?

2. SHOWDOWNS SET

The Dynamo’s victory on Thursday sets up a series against the Supporters' Shield-winning New York Red Bulls on Sunday. However, RBNY head coach Mike Petke is not pleased with the playoff schedule, calling it “mind-blowing.” Meanwhile, the New England Revolution take on Sporting Kansas City on Saturday. Can’t get enough of the playoffs? MLSsoccer.com has you covered with live pregame and postgame shows.

3. PLAYING NICE

Ahead of the Western Conference Semifinals this weekend, all the coaches appear to be being disappointingly nice when addressing one another. Caleb Porter says he was expecting Seattle to win their first Knockout Round game, while both the Timbers and the Sounders are unfazed by the playoff schedule. Real Salt Lake boss Jason Kreis called the LA Galaxy “favorites” in the Western Conference and labeled Bruce Arena “the best coach in the history of soccer in this country.”

4. EDDIE GAVEN TO RETIRE

Perhaps the most surprising news from Thursday was the announcement that Eddie Gaven had chosen to retire in order to “start the next chapter in my life.” Only 27 years old, Gaven began his career 11 years ago as a 16-year-old in New York and has since won two Supporters' Shields and an MLS Cup with the Columbus Crew. The Crew have been shaping their roster for next year, and new owner Anthony Precourt made it clear that Gaven had been in their plans and was welcome back should he change his mind. Some good news for Columbus, despite his contract being up, Dominic Oduro wants to stay with the club. The Crew also announced scrimmages against the Indy Eleven but, sadly, they will not be open to the public.

5. YALLOP OFFICIALLY HIRED

The Chicago Fire confirmed the news that Frank Yallop would be taking over, not only as head coach but also as director of soccer. According to Fire owner Andrew Hauptman, “That title shouldn’t be lost on anyone” with the Canadian’s history of talent identification seemingly playing a large role in the decision. While many were surprised that Yallop tuned up in Chicago rather than Vancouver, Yallop made it clear why, saying simply that “Andrew wanted me.”

6.  PAREJA SILENT

Despite the Colorado Rapids early exit from the playoffs, head coach Oscar Pareja is still considered a leading contender for Coach of the Year because of the work he did building and developing the squad. It looks to be a side that can only improve next year as well, but reports linking Pareja with the now vacant FC Dallas job refuse to go away. Perhaps because Pareja himself refuses to deny them. Elsewhere, it seems former US international John Harkes could be on the verge on his first managerial position.

7.  PERFECT UNION

It should come as no surprise that many of the offseason coaching changes have seemingly been made because of a failure to make the playoffs. One coach who doesn’t have to worry about that though is John Hackworth, as Philadelphia Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz has had “no thoughts” about removing his coach, saying, “Take a look at where the team was 12 months ago, I think it’s been a much improved team.” Whether the team improves further next year will likely be down to how the team is built around its young core.

8. CALEB PORTER EXTENDS CONTRACT

Caleb Porter has signed a new five-year contract extension with the Portland Timbers. It keeps the Timbers coach in Portland for the foreseeable future and should guarantee that the Timbers can only get better and better as Porter starts to look deeper into the club's academy and youth setups.

9.  PLAYING THROUGH THE PAIN

Vicente Sanchez is tough. He played the second half of the match against the Seattle Sounders with a fractured bone in his right shoulder. “As a player, one always wants to play,” said Sanchez of his gameday decision to take part. Meanwhile, another player walking around with an injury is Chris Wondolowski, who apparently remains undecided on surgery for his broken toe.

10.  FIGHTING IRISH

Is Robbie Keane the leading contender for the Volkswagen MLS MVP? With 16 goals and 11 assists in just 23 games this year, Goal.com certainly seems to think so, as do, somewhat obviously, the LA Galaxy players.

11. DC EXIT SNEAKING UNDER THE RADAR?

On Thursday, D.C. United officially announced that Dwayne De Rosario would not return in 2014. Has another player also gone quietly or is this tweet just lost in translation?

12. SAN JOSE TO OPEN NEW STADIUM

It seems the San Jose Earthquakes will open a new stadium next year after all, even if it isn’t their own. Instead, the Quakes can have a dry run for their own big day when they take on the Seattle Sounders at the NFL San Francisco 49ers' new Levi’s Stadium on August 2, 2014. The first event to be held at the new football stadium, Quakes president Dave Kaval hopes it could become a regular occurrence. Another California team will also be opening a new stadium, with Chivas USA set to help FC Tucson christen their new facility.

13. AROUND THE GLOBE

While Julian Green may not be attending the upcoming US camp, will the player one day opt to play for the US over Germany? According to the players own father, that's still very likely. Elsewhere, more bad news for Steve Cherundolo, FIFA rejects Panama's inquiry over Mexican eligibility and Mexico confirm no Euro call-ups for first leg of their crucial playoff.

14. SAN ANTONIO WANTS IN

Orlando Ciy’s path to MLS will be an inspiration to many lower-league sides, and one such team could be the San Antonio Scorpions. With a new stadium and a strong fan base, San Antonio mayor Julian Castro believes his city is ready for MLS. Also, the BBC, via the Colorado Rapids' Richard Fleming, argues that David Beckham could be just what Miami needs to ignite its love for soccer.

15. TRICK OR TREAT

Thursday night was obviously Halloween and it’s good to see that Matt Besler got in the spirit of things with his Aurelien Collin costume. The crowd at BBVA may not have been the biggest for a playoff match, but maybe that would have been different if the teams had used these costume suggestions. Finally, check out the winner of the 2013 MLS pumpkin carving contest.

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