Kick Off: Real Salt Lake take a leg up on Portland Timbers in MLS playoffs

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

1. RSL TAKE ADVANTAGE

Real Salt lake will take a healthy lead into the second leg of the Western Conference Championship thanks to a 4-2 victory over the Portland Timbers on Sunday night. (watch highlights here). However, with memories still fresh from 2011, RSL say they won’t be going to Portland looking to park the bus in front of goal in the second leg. The Claret-and-Cobalt took full advantage of what they described as a “very open” approach from the Timbers, which Portland coach Caleb Porter described as “a recipe for disaster.” However, a late goal from Frederic Piquionne gave the Timbers hope of turning things around. To do that though, they’ll need to neutralize Javier Morales.

2.  ALL SQUARE IN HOUSTON

It may not have been as action-packed, but leaving Houston with a 0-0 draw on Saturday (watch highlights here) may have been the exact result Sporting Kansas City were looking for. SKC coach Peter Vermes knows the job isn’t done though, insisting: “Now it doesn’t mean anything. Now it’s just a final at home.” That won’t bother the Houston Dynamo though, who apparently knew it was going to be an ugly game, although they could have been heading to Kansas City with the advantage had one decision been called differently.

3. BREAK IN PLAY

The MLS Cup playoffs now take a week off as we build up for the final international games of 2013. The US take on Scotland this Friday and the squad is expected to be officially announced at some point on Monday. However, some teams haven’t been waiting for the official announcement and have already let some details slip. Stoke City have confirmed that both Geoff Cameron and Brek Shea are in the squad while Anderlecht have done the same with Sacha Kljestan, as have AZ Alkmaar with Aron Johannsson. Meanwhile SI.com reports that, while Omar Gonzalez is in, Landon Donovan is sitting this one out.

4. TIME TO REFLECT IN SEATTLE

It’s been a few days now since the Seattle Sounders came up short in the playoffs once again. This leaves The Seattle Times asking a few questions: Firstly, is this the end of the road for head coach Sigi Schmid? Secondly, with few guaranteed contracts, how many of the Sounders will be back in emerald green next season? Marcus Hahnemann still feels he has something to offer the club, while one Seattle player who certainly gave his all was Brad Evans, who has an unusual offer on the table to help him pass the offseason.

5. TORONTO TARGETING ANOTHER BIG NAME?

If the latest reports from SI.com are to be believed, then Toronto FC are looking to add Samuel Eto’o to their roster next season. The former Cameroonian international is on a one-year contract with Chelsea and would be available on a free transfer next summer. In other player movement news, reports also emerged Saturday suggesting Sporting Kansas City defender Aurelien Collin is looking to secure a big move to Europe this winter. The comments came from an interview with FranceFootball.fr. The SKC defender though has since said that this came down to bad translation.

6. CHANGES FOR THE CCL?

An interesting story emerged late on Saturday that suggested U.S. Soccer is considering realigning its distribution of CONCACAF Champions League places. Under the proposed plans, the winner of the US Open Cup would no longer receive a place in the tournament, the reward instead going to the Supporters' Shield runner up. However, U.S. Soccer has insisted that those reports are inaccurate and no changes have been made.

7. PERSPECTIVES ON MLS

Check out this report on Forbes.com that includes an interview with Clark Hunt -- son of MLS patriarch Lamar Hunt -- discussing the history of MLS and where the future will take the league. And here's a look from across the pond, where the folks at BBC are examining former New England Revolution head coach Steve Nicol and the progression of MLS.

8. STATE OF THE UNION

While the Philadelphia Union’s quest to make the playoffs may have come up just short once again, off the field there’s no doubting that the Union is a well run club. Now, in the first of what appears to be a very interesting series, SB Nation’s Brotherly Game takes a look at the people behind the scenes who make the Union tick.

9. RAMOS RE-UPS WITH US U-20S

Tab Ramos reportedly has ended any speculation linking him with the FC Dallas job and signed a new four-year deal with the US as both Under-20 national team head coach and youth technical director, the job once held by Claudio Reyna. The news came ahead of the U-20 camp in Italy which began over the weekend. It’s a camp which includes seven MLS Homegrown players, as well as featuring Clint Mathis and Tony Meola as assistant coaches.

10. EL TRI KIDS COME UP SHORT

Mexico had a remarkable run in the U-17 World Cup, dispatching Brazil and Argentina on their way to the final. Unfortunately, Friday’s final against Nigeria proved to be one game too many, as they fell to a 3-0 defeat. The senior Mexican side will be hoping for better fortunes as they take on New Zealand on Wednesday. With Mexico bound to be under pressure from supporters, New Zealand’s coach Ricki Herbert feels that benefits his side. Canada have also revealed their final squad for 2013, and well done to Jonny Steele on his first call up for Northern Ireland.

11. ONE EYE ON THE FUTURE

After all the speculation during the previous week about Julian Green and his international prospects, the talented German-American took a big step toward securing his domestic future after it emerged on Friday that Bayern Munich had offered the 18-year-old his first professional contract. And the offer that was swiftly taken up While it’s far too early to get excited about this next one, The New York Times had a great feature on Ben Lederman, the 13-year-old who became the first American to make it into Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy.

12. DC HIRE STADIUM MAN

Amongst D.C. United's various on field and off field roster reshuffles, one signing that caught the eye was the club hiring Troy Scott, formerly of Events DC, as senior advisor for stadium development and operations with the club continuing to look towards building their new home in Buzzard Point. While the club looks ahead, the players took some time to look back and remember fondly their time with MLS great Dwayne De Rosario.

13. LOWER LEAGUES

It seems there is a champion in New York this year after all. Congratulations to the New York Cosmos on winning the NASL championship in their first (half) season back in pro soccer. It also seems congratulations are in order for the Indy Eleven, who have taken deposits on their entire allocation of 7,000 season tickets for their inaugural season, creating the NASL’s first-ever season-ticket waiting list. In the USL PRO, the new Oklahoma franchise seems to have narrowed down its search for a name and logo to just five candidates.

14. THE SUNSHINE STATE

Staying in US PRO, 2014 could be Orlando City’s last season before moving up to MLS and head coach Adrian Heath has made it clear nothing short of a repeat championship success will do. Need any more proof that Orlando loves soccer? On Sunday the Citrus Bowl played host to the US women's national team, with 20,274 fans in attendance to witness the US side complete a 4-1 victory over Brazil. The win meant the USWNT will finish 2013 undefeated and have now stretched their home undefeated streak to 77 matches, as well as their overall record to 39.

15. THE GREATEST GAME EVER?

There have been some truly great games of soccer played in MLS. Some of this seasons meetings between Sunday’s playoff combatants being right up there amongst them. However, according to ESPNFC.com’s Jeff Carlisle, the greatest game of all time came 10 years ago in a Western Conference Semifinal second leg. Do you agree?

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