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Sun. Dec 7th at 3:00 PM EST · ESPN · UniMas · UDN · TSN1 · RDS2
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Final

Kick Off: First-leg talking points, comebacks and near misses set up massive midweek MLS Cup Playoff ties

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

1. LA HOLD SLIM ADVANTAGE

The LA Galaxy came away with a 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake (watch highlights here) in the first leg of their Western Conference Semifinal, thanks to a rocket of a shot from Sean Franklin, which the defender himself described as “pretty good.” Real Salt Lake made a tactical shift to focus on defense but, according to coach Jason Kreis, they still weren’t good enough. The team knows it could have been a lot worse as well and will happily go back to Rio Tinto with just a one-goal deficit. The Galaxy, meanwhile, will hope their missed chances don’t come back to haunt them.

2. COMEBACK IN HOUSTON

New York Red Bulls and the Houston Dynamo finished locked at 2-2 at BBVA Compass Stadium on Sunday (watch highlights here). Having won all three of their previous encounters this season, it seemed like it was going to be the Red Bulls' day once again after the visiting team scored two early goals. However, a Jamison Olave red card and stoppage-time equalizer mean honors are even heading back to New York on Wednesday. While the Red Bulls feel they’re in a favorable position for that match, believing they “beat themselves” on Sunday, will they be able to get the job done without Olave? The Dynamo believe they should hold the advantage, pointing to the non-PK call as a potential turning point.

3. TIMBERS WIN AT CENTURYLINK

The Portland Timbers put in a strong performance to leave CenturyLink Field with a 2-1 victory over the Seattle Sounders (watch highlights here). For Portland, their first-ever playoff game also marked their first-ever MLS win in Seattle and the first time they had ever even lead a game at CenturyLink. Ryan Johnson, making his first start in two months, certainly made the most of the opportunity, but a late strike by Osvaldo Alonso gives Seattle plenty of reasons to hope, as does the number of chances Clint Dempsey created. As a side note, it seems that, on top of local pride and a place in the Western Conference Championship, there may be a little extra riding on the game.

4. NEW ENGLAND TAKE IT TO KANSAS CITY

The New England Revolution weathered Sporting Kansas City's early pressure on Saturday and were rewarded with a 2-1 win (watch highlights here). New England are now pretty confident going into the second leg, with Matt Reis, who logged some remarkable saves, stating, “I like our chances.” However, Aurelien Collin's late goal means the contest is far from over and SKC boss Peter Vermes believes they should be heading back to Sporting Park with a draw after questioning the Revolution's opening goal: “All three guys are offside.”

5. MOVES IN MONTREAL

Following the disgraceful scenes during last Thursday's Knockout Round match, the MLS Disciplinary Committee has handed down a series of fines to both Montreal players and staff. Yet it seems Marco Schällibaum has gotten more than just a fine. Despite making the playoffs, SI.com reports that crashing out in the first round means the Swiss Volcano’s contract is not being renewed, with early reports linking Alessandro Nesta to the job.

6. LESSONS LEARNED

Montreal weren’t the only team to lose in the Knockout Round, though. Colorado also made an early exit and, for anyone still unsure, this breakdown makes it pretty clear where everything went wrong for the Rapids. Plenty for Pareja to work on next year then, if he’s still in charge that is. Because, for now, those FC Dallas rumors refuse to go away.

7. IS MLS THE MOST COMPETITIVE LEAGUE?

It’s a question that gets asked quite a lot these days, but does MLS’ parity help make it one of the most competitive leagues in the world? This column from The Shin Guardian breaks down the numbers and comes away with the conclusion that yes, it certainly does.

8. HIGH PRESSURE, LOW WAGE

Kofi Opare has been increasingly important for the LA Galaxy down the final stretch. The question now is whether he can keep that going throughout the playoffs, and if he can, will he be in line for a pay raise? Buzzfeed.com presents an interesting read, which not only takes a look at Opare's development, but also the salary structure in MLS.

9. THE MAGEE DEAL

There are few who would argue that the Chicago Fire have gotten the better end of the Mike Magee-Robbie Rogers trade so far. But is Rogers bothered by comparisons to the Fire’s MVP contender? “I can’t pay attention to that kind of stuff,” says Rogers, while his Galaxy teammate Landon Donovan added a significant amount of intrigue to the trade by stating “…only those of us who are close to Mike know exactly why that decision was made. The public will never know what those reasons are.”

10.  BLOW TO THE HEAD

On Sunday, over in England, Hugo Lloris saw out the entirety of Tottenham's scoreless game against Tim Howard’s Everton despite having been knocked unconscious. His decision to carry on seemed to draw hugely contrasting opinions, with the majority of those in England labeling it a “brave decision” while the general consensus in the US was that he should have been removed. Those in the former group should consider the ongoing plight of Ugo Ihemelu,

11.  IN AND OUT

D.C. United have made yet another cut in what is easily the biggest clear out of players by any team so far this offseason. The club has declined its option to purchase Indonesian player Syamsir Alam, hardly surprising considering he hasn’t featured in a single competitive game for the club. Up in Canada, one player hoping to return is Jay DeMerit, who wants to see out his career in Vancouver if the new man in charge, whoever that may be, is keen to keep him.

12. RISING TO THE CHALLENGE

It seems Orlando City’s players now have even more to play for next season. Not only will the club be defending its USL PRO crown, but many of the players could well be playing for a place as part of an MLS franchise. One such player is John Bowen, who recently resigned with the club and talks about the exciting challenge such an opportunity offers. Meanwhile, the rumors around the other potential Florida franchise refuse to go away, this time an English tabloid has “news” of some English Internationals who could be joining Beckham in Miami. It also seems LeBron James has taken an interest in Beckham’s possible venture.

13. RISING FROM THE ASHES

Down in the USL PRO, an interesting story developed over the weekend with Phoenix FC seemingly deciding their name was more in reference to the mythical bird than the place they play soccer. On Friday the news broke that Phoenix FC were finished, with the USL terminating their contract after just one season. However, on Saturday, the USL issued a statement stating that Phoenix FC will in fact continue next season, with new ownership to be announced later this month.

14. THE COST OF FAILURE

Forget the pride of taking part in a World Cup, if Mexico should fail to qualify for next summer’s tournament, the Mexican FA will be left to count the costs of that shortcoming to the tune of almost $650 million. While the full national side may be on the rocks at the moment, the Under-17 side is having no such problems, beating Brazil on their way to the final four of the U-17 World Cup. Next up? Argentina.

15. TIFO TIME

Want to gain further insight into what it means to be a soccer fan in Cascadia? Or maybe you’ve always wanted to know what goes into making their impressive tifos. Be sure to check out this short documentary, following the Timbers Army as they prepared their recent, Beatles-themed display. Never ones to be outdone, here’s Seattle’s display from Saturdays playoff clash. Even the LA Galaxy fans are getting in on the action.

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