Kick Off: Liga MX ends CONCACAF Champions League dreams as MLS sides swept away in Mexico

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

1. SAN JOSE’S PENALTY HEARTBREAK

The San Jose Earthquakes, despite all their injury concerns, put in a strong performance against Toluca in the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal. The Earthquakes took the Mexican side all the way to penalties after the game finished 1-1 (2-2 on aggregate) and, sadly, that was where San Jose came undone, losing 5-4 in the shootout (watch highlights here). Still, despite the disappointment, Quakes head coach Mark Watson is, quite rightly, very proud of his team.

2. SPORTING KC DESTROYED BY CRUZ AZUL

While the Earthquakes may have put in a strong performance, Sporting Kansas City entered the second leg with a one-goal advantage then found themselves on the wrong end of a 5-1 (5-2 loss on aggregate) blowout, as they were completely torn apart by Cruz Azul (watch highlights here). While SKC head coach Peter Vermes offered some valid excuses for his side’s collapse, he does feel Cruz Azul got what they deserved.

3. THE MAYOR OF HANNOVER RETIRES

On Wednesday, former US international Steve Cherundolo officially announced his retirement, citing consistent knee injuries. Cherundolo spent his entire 15-year playing career with Bundesliga club Hannover 96 and that spell looks set to continue, as the man dubbed “the mayor of Hannover” will now transition into a coaching role with the club. While he may not have seen much game time this past year, it could certainly be argued that Cherundolo helped change the US national team and there's no doubt he remains a hard man to replace.

4. IN ABSENTIA

Some may be wondering exactly what’s happening with both Mike Magee and José Gonçalves following recent absences from their respective teams. Gonçalves has been quoted just this week talking about how long he sees himself staying in MLS: “If everything goes well, we could maybe stay for another couple of years.” Mike Magee, on the other hand, is said to have taken part in his first full training on Wednesday and the 2013 MLS MVP also offered this reply to rumors of a bust-up with Chicago Fire head coach Frank Yallop.

5. DISCIPLINING DEMPSEY

With the World Cup fast approaching, Jurgen Klinsmann has made it clear that he feels US national team players such as Clint Dempsey need protection from repeated fouling. However, Dempsey may not have to worry about being fouled for a couple of games, as reports suggest the Seattle Sounders Designated Player is in line for a two-game suspension following an off-the-ball incident involving Toronto FC defender Mark Bloom. While nothing has been officially announced yet, Sigi Schmid hopes to hear from the league by Friday.

6. BEING GREEN

Julian Green’s decision to play for the US instead of Germany has been a hot topic for a number of people, including some of his more famous Bayern Munich teammates. Could Green have made it into the German national team? It certainly seems so, as the German federation have revealed they were in talks with Green right up until he made his final choice. As for why Green did eventually choose the US, his father offers his own views on the young player’s decision-making process.

7. DC FANS UNITE

It seems that some D.C. United fans really want that new stadium, as it was revealed on Wednesday that, in less than three weeks, more than 2,000 D.C. residents sent more than 27,000 e-mails regarding the project to the mayor and other council members. According to the club's chief operating officer Tom Hunt, that number is only set to grow as well: “The more people understand the plans, the more they like them.” While the fans are busy doing their part for the club, United also have a player who can help both on and off the field.

8. TIME AND A PLACE FOR ODURO

The Columbus Crew play their home opener this Saturday and, after serving his red-card suspension, Dominic Oduro can’t wait to get back on the field with his teammates. The big question now is when and where Columbus head coach Gregg Berhalter plans to use the Ghanaian. The Crew’s opponents this weekend will be the Philadelphia Union, and despite a win against the New England Revolution last weekend, John Hackworth expects a lot more from his side.

9. TIMBERS ROOKIES GET THE BLUES

Taylor Peay and Schillo Tshuma are the latest Portland Timbers players to be sent out on loan. But rather than join Sacramento Republic FC, the two rookies have both been sent to the Orange County Blues, with Caleb Porter monitoring their progress: “They will hopefully make a jump in the next few weeks and we will evaluate all the players out on loan, their situation, and whether or not we bring them back.” With one eye on the past and one on the future, the Timbers have also brought back one of their former players to help coach the U-23s.

10. SNOW JOKE

The Montreal Impact are due to play their first home game of the season and, as usual, the harsh conditions in Canada at this time of year mean their first home games of the season are set to be played at the Olympic Stadum rather than Stade Saputo. Yet, despite the roof, incoming snow means the status of the Impact's game against the Seattle Sounders is currently in flux. The Impact are confident the match will go ahead, though, and they also have reason to be cautiously optimistic on the field as well following Nelson Rivas' return to training.

11. HEATH LEADS THE WAY FOR ORLANDO CITY

Orlando City are less than a year away from making their MLS debut and while the club is already making moves off the pitch to get the side ready, it will be up to head coach Adrian Heath to ensure they’re ready on the field as well. This is new territory for Heath and, to that end, the Englishman has revealed that he’s spent some time with the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers, both former expansion clubs, to gain some insight into how best to prepare.

12. HOLDEN VOWS TO RETURN

Despite the latest in an ever-increasing list of serious injuries, Stuart Holden remains as confident as ever that he’ll make it back onto the field. Staying in England, while Geoff Cameron is working out superbly for Stoke City, their other American signings haven’t worked out quite so well. As such, could the Potters be set to try a Canadian now instead?

13. A NEW APPROACH FROM MLS COMMISSIONER

It’s a whole new world and I encourage everyone to spend a lot of time thinking about it.” Those were the words of MLS Commissioner Don Garber, talking about the challenge a number of sports face in finding new ways to engage millennials in their product. Garber also offered his thoughts on the current situation surrounding the 2022 World Cup in Qatar

14. GO PRO

It looks as though we may see some familiar faces returning to MLS games this weekend, as ESPNFC.com first reported that a tentative agreement has been reached between the Professional Referees Organization and the Professional Soccer Referees Association. This was later followed by a statement from Steve Taylor, lead negotiator for the PRSA, that confirmed the agreement between the two sides, effectively ending the lockout which has seen MLS forced to call upon replacement referees for the first two weeks of the season.

15. NEW YORK: SOCCER MECCA?

Despite the imminent arrival of New York City FC, there are still some who question just how popular soccer can be in the Big Apple. Yet, for a good indicator, just wait for this summer’s World Cup, because when the tournament kicks off this June, there will be few places on Earth outside of Brazil where you’ll be able to find so many people rooting for so many different teams.

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