Kick Off: It all comes down to this – LA Galaxy take on Club Tijuana for place in CCL semifinals

Kick Off, LA and Tijuana

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

1. CRUNCH TIME IN TIJUANA

Tuesday night sees the first of three the decisive MLS-Liga MX quarterfinal second-leg matchups in the CONCACAF Champions League, as the LA Galaxy head into their game against Club Tijuana carrying a 1-0 advantage. It’s a game that Galaxy midfielder Marcelo Sarvas says will be “like a war.” Club Tijuana's squad could feature as many as seven US citizens, including Herculez Gomez, and as the Los Angeles Times reports, that's a number that only looks set to increase. You can catch Tuesday night's game on Fox Sports 2 and Galavision at 10 pm ET.

2. WORLD CUP SCANDAL

If the following story is true, it will likely come as a shock to absolutely no one. On Monday, the Telegraph ran a story alleging that former FIFA vice president Jack Warner personally received $1.2 million from a firm controlled by former Asian Football Confederation president and FIFA executive member Mohammed bin Hamman. The payment, they claim, was for Warner’s services in helping Qatar secure the 2022 World Cup.

3. BUILDING A RELATIONSHIP

MLS has a new director of player relations, with Will Kuntz set leave his job as a New York Yankees scout in order to take on the role. According to Kuntz, the new job was "the one opportunity outside of baseball that would make me leave here."

4. HIGH PRAISE FOR TORONTO DESIGNATED PLAYERS

Michael Bradley made his triumphant return to MLS in Saturday’s win against the Seattle Sounders, but what is it exactly that the midfielder offers on the field which makes him such a useful player? Bradley wasn’t the only one to earn plaudits, though, for while both he and fellow big-money DP Jermain Defoe earned spots on MLS’ Team of the Week. Defoe’s two goals were enough to earn him the MLS Player of the Week award. Performances like that won’t have hurt the Englishman’s chances of making it to the World Cup.

5. MORE INTERNATIONALS SET FOR US SOIL

When it comes to international football, everyone has one eye on the World Cup and, with that in mind, there are a couple more international games taking place in the US this summer prior to the the big tournament. Ivory Coast are set to take on El Salvador at FC Dallas' Toyota Stadium, while Serbia will take on Jamaica at Red Bull Arena. Looking beyond this summer’s big event, the US national team has lined up a game against the Czech Republic in Prague in September.

6. MLS > SERIE A?

Former World Cup winner Gennaro Gattuso has been spending some time in Montreal recently, but rather than possibly joining the Impact, Gattuso has been coaching for a private academy and he offered some thoughts on the level of the players he’s working with. In short, as things stand, Gattuso says MLS could be set to overtake the Italian league in terms of quality. Perhaps then this is why Napoli’s president is being linked with the league or why rumors suggest Inter Milan midfielder Esteban Cambiasso could be on his way to MLS.

7. LEARNING THE CITY WAY

Jason Kreis is about halfway through his time embedded with New York City FC’s parent club, Manchester City, learning to do things "the Citeh way." According to the former Real Salt Lake head coach, the experience has helped him identify some players that may be useful for his new side. However, Kreis still finds himself having to battle people's misconceptions about MLS.

8. PONTIUS TO TAKE SOME TIME

Bad news for D.C United fans, as it seems the team will have to get used to playing without Chris Pontius for the time being. The midfielder is still trying to work his way back following surgery during the offseason but, as general manager Dave Kasper revealed, “He has good days and bad days. He needs more time.” There is some good news for United fans, providing they living in the Washington area, as this weekend’s game against Toronto will be streamed live via United's own website.

9. FERNANDEZ FINDING HIS WAY

While the Portland Timbers have yet to really click this season, a couple of spirited performances have seen them battle back from deficits to draws. Those results are largely thanks to goals from Gaston Fernandez, and the Argentinian forward could well prove to be the key to his new team's success this season. Yet, just as important is Darlington Nagbe, who reached an impressive landmark on Sunday.

10. SAAD ABSENCE

One of the many things that Sporting Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes is unhappy about following his side's most recent MLS performance is the absence of Soony Saad. The 21-year-old has yet to feature for SKC this season after aggravating a groin injury while playing for the Lebanese national team in their, ultimately doomed, Asian Cup qualifying campaign. Yet while Saad sits out, another Kansas City player is making the most of the opportunity.

11. MOVED TO TEARS

Seattle Sounders captain Brad Evans was forced off early in the game against Toronto with a calf contusion, and while he hopes to be fit again in time for the Montreal Impact this weekend, Evans' removal allowed Gonzalo Pineda to make his first appearance for the Sounders. It was the former Mexican international’s first competitive game in 10 months and, as Pineda himself reveals, his debut moved him to tears after considering retirement.

12. SAM’S SEASON

While the New York Red Bulls' season may not have gotten off to the best of starts, one of the few bright spots has been the performance of Lloyd Sam. Despite the praise being levied upon the 29-year-old winger, the only thing Sam cares about is the result, meaning he’s not particularly happy right now.

13. McNAMARA OLD BEYOND HIS YEARS

Thomas McNamara’s mullet makes him easily distinguishable on the soccer field, but his hard work and style of play could just as easily become his calling cards. While we’re only two games into the 2014 season, the Chivas USA rookie has certainly shown signs that he can become a regular contributor for his side this year.

14. WHERE NEXT FOR RSL?

Real Salt Lake are a team looking to expand their opportunities and, while the majority of that talk may center on whether or not they start their own USL PRO team and who they might affiliate with in the meantime, RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey is considering other options as well, such as a PDL team or the possibility of a second academy.

15. LOANLY

On Monday, two MLS clubs announced some of players they will be sending on loan to their USL PRO affiliates to start the 2014 season. Toronto FC revealed three of the players that will be joining the Wilmington Hammerheads, while Sporting Kansas City, having recently announced the two players that will be joining OKC Energy, have now confirmed one of the players to be joining their other USL affiliate, with Mikey Lopez heading to Orlando City.

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