Here are the top 15 soccer stories we’re following today...
1. IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THIS
One weekend and four playoff spots, the Supporters' Shield and the Golden Boot at stake. Better make sure the fridge is stocked now as the MLS regular season hits its final weekend. Here's the TV schedule. Here's the bracket they're all playing to get into. And, most importantly, here's the way it all looks with just one game left.
2. WITH A FIRST TROPHY WITHIN HIS GRASP, A LOCAL BOY MAKES GOOD
A win over the Chicago Fire on Saturday will hand the New York Red Bulls their first-ever major trophy, and there is no one that success would mean more to than head coach Mike Petke. A former New York Metrostar, born and raised in New Jersey and surely a contender for Coach of the Year, Petke discusses working for his local team and just what is considered success in New York.
3. FROM WORST TO FIRST IN PORTLAND?
OK, so they weren't the worst team in MLS last season, but the turnaround in Portland under Caleb Porter is certainly impressive nonetheless. They're a win and a few favorable results away from capturing the Supporters' Shield, and Porter sat down with The Guardian to discuss the process that's gotten them this far. Central to the Timbers' efforts is Will Johnson, who's found a home in the PacNW.
4. GOLDEN BOOT RACE
On top of all the other important outcomes to be decided this weekend, there’s also the small matter of the Golden Boot winner. It’s a three way race between Camilo (19), Mike Magee (20) and Marco Di Vaio (20). With two of those players still trying to ensure their team's playoff place, it could be an exciting finish.
5. HOUSTON FALL IN PANAMA
The Houston Dynamo have failed to qualify for the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League after a 1-0 loss to Árabe Unido in Panama (watch highlights here). The Dynamo made nine changes to the side that started their last MLS match and needed only a point to go through. However, Houston were unhappy with the way Árabe Unido went about their business, with forward Omar Cummings commenting “it’s ugly footbal l… It’s not playing, it’s frustrating.”
6. LA THUMPED IN EL SALVADOR
With the LA Galaxy already through to the quarterfinals and one eye on Sunday's big game against the Seattle Sounders, it was understandable if their priorities lay elsewhere. However, the Galaxy didn’t just lose, they were handed a humiliating 4-0 defeat by Isidro Metapán in San Salvador in their CCL group-stage finale(watch highlights here), which could leave some questioning the depth of the LA squad. What did Bruce Arena think of his teams performance? “I did not underestimate the opponent. And if our team did, it certainly showed.”
7. US VS. MEXICO CLASHES AHEAD IN CCL
Following the conclusion of Thursday night’s CONCACAF Champions League matches, we now know which teams will square up in the quarterfinals. With the Houston Dynamo failing to make the cut, that left three MLS teams, all of which will square off against the three remaining Mexican teams. Club Tijuana vs. LA Galaxy in particular looks an interesting clash, but, due to seeding, all three MLS teams must travel to Mexico for their second legs when the tournament resumes in mid-March.
8. TO EUROPE!
For MLS players looking to make next summer’s World Cup squad, they’re looking at a busy offseason. In part two of a Q&A with USsoccer.com, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann issue the following ultimatum: “If they’re not going on loan to Europe in January, then they are coming into camp with us.” Klinsmann singled out three players in particular for moves in January: Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan and Graham Zusi. Meanwhile, there are some players already based in Europe who perhaps need to start thinking about a January move.
9. BERRY SURVIVING AND THRIVING IN SECOND YEAR
For many players awarded the title of MLS Rookie of the Year, it can lead to a sophomore slump in year two. Not Austin Berry, who credits “the little things” for keeping him on track and ensuring he has so far played every minute of the Chicago Fire’s season.
10. CREW PLAYER ON HIS WAY TO IRAQ?
Could Justin Meram be set to follow Steven Beitashour and declare his soccer loyalty to a Middle Eastern nation? Meram took part in Iraq’s September training camp and would seemingly have played in their Asian Cup qualifiers if not for issues with his paperwork. Meram was born in Michigan but qualifies for Iraq via his parents.
11. HOMELESS IN NEW YORK
As the New York Red Bulls get ready for another run at the MLS Cup, general manager Jerome de Bontin could be forgiven for being a little bit preoccupied right now. However, next month the GM will experience a world far removed from his own day to day experience, as he spends the night “sleeping out” on the streets of New York.
12. SPORTING KC ACADEMY PRODUCES AGAIN
Erik Palmer-Brown is ranked by many as the No. 1 prospect among his age group. The US U-18 doesn’t let talk like that go to his head, though, instead he’s focused on trying to make it at Sporting Kansas City. Now training with the first team, the defender refers to the club as “like family,” while SKC boss Peter Vermes says “we are excited to watch his growth within Sporting Kansas City.”
13. PLANNING IN VANCOUVER
Could a change be on the way in Vancouver? It just might be, as Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi described the team’s performance this season as “stagnant.” However, one person who wants to stay with the club for a long time is the Whitecaps' newly crowned player of the year, Camilo Sanvezzo.
14. PLANS FOR TFC
There is plenty of work to be done in Toronto, but it’s a task Tim Leiweke is feeling comfortable with, saying “the soccer team is one that will be completely fixed.” The club seems to believe the addition of a couple of Designated Players will solve their problems and, with that in mind, head coach Ryan Nelsen says the trip to Europe went well. The club will say goodbye to Danny Koevermans following Saturday's game against Montreal along with its first-ever employee.
15. THE STORIES OF MLS PLAYERS
Here’s a question for you: If one of your team’s key players was a famous literary figure, who would they be?