Kick Off: MLS Cup final set as Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City advance

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

1. REAL SALT LAKE DUMP TIMBERS

Real Salt Lake were true to their word and came out attacking in the second leg of the Western Conference Championship on Sunday night, doing enough to earn themselves a 1-0 win (watch highlights here) and a 5-2 win on aggregate over the Portland Timbers. RSL were pleased to get the crucial opening goal against the Timbers that “took a lot of wind out of their sails.” Yet, Timbers head coach Caleb Porter was left perplexed by a disallowed goal in the first half that could have made the game very different. Still, Portland can at least be pleased to have installed what they consider a winning culture at the club. And if you’re looking for an explanation of what makes Real Salt Lake so good though, good luck. Even the players can’t explain it.

2. KANSAS CITY REVERSE THE HEX

It looked like it would be a familiar story for Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night, after an early goal gave the Houston Dynamo the lead in the Eastern Conference Championship second leg. However, SKC weren’t going down that easily, and the players battled back to a 2-1 victory (watch highlights here) in front of a deafening Sporting Park crowd, with a lot of praise for the result due to Benny Feilhaber and Dom Dwyer. For the Dynamo, the loss of some key personnel may have been just too much to overcome but, for Sporting KC, reaching the final could be the ultimate MLS Cinderella story.

3. FINAL ALL SET, SAVE THE DATE

So now we know who will be in the final and where it will take place. Sporting Kansas City will take on Real Salt Lake at Sporting Park on Dec. 7 at 4 pm ET (ESPN, UniMas). Let’s hope that it’s not as cold as Saturday's game at Sporting Park was but, either way, this final will mark a first for the MLS Cup.

4. RELISH THE RIVALRY

There are a lot of people hoping to see MLS return to Miami, and it seems that their would-be rivals, Orlando City SC, are chief amongst them. You certainly can’t accuse the Orlando City executives of not aiming big either, with the club envisioning a Florida rivalry becoming something akin to the Pacific Northwest competition between Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. According to Philadelphia Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz, who was formerly president of the Tampa Bay Mutiny, the buzz around these two cities points to Florida’s growing soccer maturity.

5. SMART MOVES AND TOUGH CHOICES FOR NEW ENGLAND

With the deadline for contract options looming, the New England Revolution made a series of important decisions on Friday, the most noticeable of which included signing Defender of the Year nominee José Gonçalves on a permanent deal along with declining veteran goalkeeper Matt Reis’ option. The club also declined Charlie Davies' option but hope to bring him back. Elsewhere, It looks like the New York Red Bulls could be extending the contract of one of their more notorious players.

6. AGUDELO’S ANGUISH

While the Revolution will be monitoring Juan Agudelo’s situation, it seems the striker will still be on the move. He won’t be going to Stoke City though, and manager Mark Hughes said this of the situation, “It is hugely disappointing for us, but it is also devastating for the lad,” before adding, “No doubt somebody in Europe will pick him up and he will be a sensation somewhere else, unfortunately.” Could that somewhere else be Valencia?

7. MONEY MATTERS IN COLUMBUS

The Columbus Crew parted ways with six players on Friday, including Jairo Arrieta and Danny O’Rourke. According to the club, the cuts were made due to financial constraints, but head coach Gregg Berhalter did not rule out the possibility some could return if they were willing to except less money. The Crew also exercised options on 14 players from the 2013 season. The San Jose Earthquakes also declined six players who had played minor roles with the club over the last year.

8. TRAINING TIME

Two more MLS players, possibly three, joined the ever-growing list of those heading overseas this offseason. Thierry Henry has returned once again to Arsenal to help him stay in shape. However, the signs suggest this offseason training will not turn into a loan. Staying in England, with the success of Tim Howard and Brad Guzan, could West Brom be looking to add an American goalkeeper to their ranks? Plus, Bright Dike plans to do all he can to secure a starting place in Nigeria's World Cup squad next summer, and that involves keeping busy this winter: “I will not be taking a break for longer than a few weeks. I will train with a team in Europe which is still to be decided.”

9. ALL-STAR OPPOSITION

Could Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich be heading to Portland next summer? If rumors are to be belived, the Bundesliga giants are being lined up as the opponents for the 2014 All-Star Game at JELD-WEN Field. An MLS spokesman, however, denies any decision has been made.

10. MATCH-FIXING

Match-fixing has been a problem in global soccer for a while now, and it’s crossed paths with the US national team a couple of times as well. Declan Hill has just launched a new book on the subject and, in this interview with Voices of Soccer, one of the many topics the author discusses is the 2010 game between El Salvador and the US.

11. FIGHTING IRISH

It doesn’t seem like Mike Magee will be getting a USMNT call up anytime soon, however, could the MVP nominee have another option to consider by way of his Irish heritage? Robbie Keane certainly think’s he would make a good addition to the squad.

12. YOUNGSTERS GATHER

The US Under-20 national team completed its first camp of the 2015 World Cup cycle last week. The squad took part in two friendlies, with pretty different results, but how do things look for the side heading forward towards more significant games? American Soccer Now assesses some of the talent on display, including FC Dallas’ Kellyn Acosta.

13. DONOVAN-VISION

When Landon Donovan was talking about his future earlier in the year, one of the things he said was this: “I think perhaps broadcasting would be something I would like to do.” Well, it seems Fox Sports is going to take him up on that, as the US international is going to be a studio analyst during the network's UEFA Champions League coverage.

14. SLEEPING OUT

Last Thursday saw a number of MLS general managers raising money for Covenant House, a charity that focuses on helping homeless youths. As part of "Sleep out: Executive Edition," the GMs from New York, Vancouver and Toronto all took to the streets for a night, armed with nothing more than a piece of cardboard and a sleeping bag.

15. THE TOUGHEST FIGHT

Shawn Kuykendal wasn’t in Major League Soccer long, spending brief periods with D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls, but he retained his love of the game and even kept playing, right up until he was diagnosed with a rare, incurable form of cancer. Now, the former player turns to his family, faith and a little bit of soccer to help him through this impossible time.

MLSsoccer.com Musts

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