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Kick Off - Peter Vermes (July 14, 2012)
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Kick Off: Sporting set a "standard of excellence" in the East

Sporting Kansas City have done it again.

For the second season in a row, SKC finished atop the Eastern conference after a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday night in their final regular-season match. Watch the highlights and celebrations here.

After starting the season with seven straight wins, they ended the 2012 campaign unbeaten in 12 straight games and firing on all cylinders heading into the playoffs. No wonder Sporting manager Peter Vermes would heap praise on his side after a massive feat.

“It's a great effort by the boys to do this two years in a row," he said."It's not easy. It's consistency from the players. As I told them, it's a standard of excellence that they have set.”

Finishing No. 1 in the Eastern Conference is huge for SKC, and the Kansas City Star urged local sports fans to get on board the Sporting train, now: “The Royals have the sorriest last two decades in the American League and the Chiefs have a case as the NFL’s worst team, so why not invest a bit in a winner?"

As for the Union, they battled hard all night but couldn’t find a finishing touch. They were missing attacker Freddy Adu, with speculation rife amongst the Twitterati that his days in Philadelphia are numbered.

While there was a battle for seeding in MLS play, it was the same for the Seattle Sounders in the CONCACAF Champions League last night.

The Sounders triumphed once again, making it four wins from four in CCL action, as they comfortably downed Marathón on Wednesday night at CenturyLink. Seattle native Marcus Hahnemann made his first competitive appearance for the Sounders (since his first stint with the old A-League version of the franchise in 1996) in the 3-1 win, and described the occasion as “awesome.”

Head coach Sigi Schmid told the Seattle Times that his side are the envy of the league: “Certainly, I don't think ... there's a team in the league with two better goalkeepers than [Michael] Gspurning and Hahnemann.”

The two-time World Cup veteran ‘keeper made a terrific stop with Seattle 2-1 up in the second half, before the Sounders padded their lead and ensured they won't be lower than the No. 3 seed in the quarterfinal draw.

Watch the highlights here as Sammy Ochoa, Steve Zakuani and David Estrada got on the board.

Toronto FC experienced a different CCL fate, recording yet another narrow 1-0 loss this time at the hands of Santos Laguna. TFC needed to win by two goals against the Mexican side to qualify from the CCL groups stages and the task proved too big of a hurdle for Paul Mariner’s side.

Although they couldn't score, Mariner was pleased nonetheless with his side's attacking impetus: “It was a terrific effort. I thought we should have been four up after 16 minutes. Four clear chances and we just couldn’t take them. Against good teams, you’ve got to take your chances, it’s as simple as that."

The LA Galaxy are in CCL action on Thursday night, with their passage to the quarterfinals already rubber-stamped. Manager Bruce Arena will once again look to his youngsters to get the job done in El Salvador against Isidro Metapán.

Galaxy Insider Adam Serrano is on the trip with the squad, follow his blog for all the latest from El Salvador, including Arena donning his diplomatic hat by presenting an LA shirt to the US ambassador of the nation.

Columbus Crew owners the Hunt Sports Group talked about how they’re seeking more local investment in a Columbus Dispatch article on Thursday morning. Read more here.  

Staying in the Eastern Conference, D.C. United may have missed out on a potential regular-season Eastern crown with Sporting’s win on Wednesday, but they still got some great news. Captain Dwayne De Rosario told The Washington Post that he believes he will be back in training as early as next week. Check out the in-depth sit-down with DeRo in which he also discusses a potential future as Canadian national team manager.

Speaking of managers, reports surfaced on Wednesday that head coach Robin Fraser was set to be replaced after a disappointing season for Chivas USA. But Fraser admitted he had “no idea" if he’ll still be around next week.

We have a little more certainty about that Copa América coming to the USA in 2016. Details were released on Wednesday after a five-hour long meeting of the CONMEBOL board rubber-stamped the plans rumored back in January. The tournament will be called the Copa América Centenario, find out all the facts and figures of the mega-tournament here. 

In other international news, former LA Galaxy hero Guillermo "Pando" Ramírez was banned from playing soccer for life by FIFA on Wednesday. The issue: match-fixing in Guatemala.

In UEFA Champions League action USMNT midfielder Jermaine Jones came on as a halftime sub to help Schalke cause a big upset on Wednesday night, as the Germans defeated Arsenal 2-0 at the Emirates. 

Find out how the other US players in UCL action got on, here.

Someone desperate to play, Red Bulls ‘keeper Luis Robles, took an unorthodox route to playing professionally. Working at a realty office to provide for his family, is just part of the Robles interview featured in this week’s episode of “Seeing Red” here.

While staying in New York, sort of, Queens native and world superstar Nicki Minaj turned down the chance to meet Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli after her gig in Manchester. See why Minaj turned him down. Mario must be thinking “Why always me?” Poor lad.

And finally, Arsenal welcomed NFL side the St. Louis Rams to training on Wednesday ahead of their NFL game against the New England Patriots at Wembley on Sunday. Maybe it was all that kicking field goals that hurt the Gunners vs. Schalke?

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