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Kick Off: LIVESTRONG Sporting Park opens its doors, Mendoza hushes Crew fans

Blue Hell.

It’s the name given to the dedicated supporters’ section behind the north goal at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park and it’s also what the Chicago Fire have in store for them tonight as Sporting Kansas City get set to open their new state-of-the-art soccer stadium on national television (10 pm ET, ESPN2 and TSN2).

The occasion could also prove a turning point in the rivalry between Sporting and Chicago that is ready to blossom. Sporting KC have gotten into the spirit, giving away free food for every Fire loss and contributing cash to charity for every goal scored against the Fire.

It’s a big day for the club and for Sporting KC president Robb Heineman, who says he “failed, probably three or four times to get the thing financed. To get it done … it’s going to be a pretty emotional moment for me.”

Sporting Kansas City captain Davy Arnaud has not been able to get much sleep in the days leading up to the stadium opening “just thinking about everything: the game, the fans.”

The Fire are on a club-record 10-game winless streak but at least they have Patrick Nyarko back in the fold after a concussion had him sidelined. One caveat: He says he’s “not quite there yet.”

It sounds like the Chicago Fire are changing their game plan from the possession and passing build-up style of Carlos de los Cobos to a more direct, long-ball style under Frank Klopas, who says: “I don’t think it’s smart to play the ball in front of your own net and take risks in front of your own net when we have a striker that’s big and strong.”

There's another MLS forward that has thick skin. The Columbus Crew's Andrés Mendoza could care less that the local fans booed him last night when he came out of the match against Real Salt Lake after a goal and an assist.

The Crew faithful wanted Jeff Cunningham to take a 74th-minute penalty kick to tie the MLS all-time scoring record and they let the Peruvian know it. Mendoza likely didn’t endear himself any more to the supporters when he uttered these words following his team’s 2-1 win: “I don’t want to sound disparaging, but maybe the fans aren’t knowledgeable.”

While Mendoza claims ignorance — he says he didn’t know that Cunningham was the penalty-kick taker on the night and he was oblivious to the record — Cunningham went the opposite direction of the fans on this situation: “It’s important for us to be supportive of him and encourage him.”

So what do his teammates have to say about it? Captain Chad Marshall, who approached Mendoza to give up the kick to Cunningham, gave a no comment, while manager Robert Warzycha says, “He scored a goal so I can’t complain.”

There’s also some controversy on the RSL side after they took an early lead in Columbus but couldn’t get anything out of the match. Goalkeeper Nick Rimando claims that “some guys came in and didn’t want to put the effort in … some guys acted like they were defending.”

The New York Red Bulls’ Joel Lindpere is definitely not out to stir the pot. Faced with reported interest from Sven-Göran Eriksson’s Leicester City in England, he says “I don’t see too many options that I can go from here, because I have a contract and Red Bull need me.”

Loyalty and commitment to a club. That’s what Toronto FC’s Paul Mariner says he expected when his team cut ties with three of its youth academy stars, who refused to commit to the program in order to keep their options open.

There was as much debate about the players left off the 2011 All-Star ballot as the names that were named on it when it was released on Wednesday. For example, the absence of LA Galaxy forward Juan Pablo Ángel was immediately pointed out.

There are no questions about who is the biggest star in tonight’s CONCACAF Gold Cup Group A doubleheader in Charlotte, N.C. (El Salvador vs. Costa Rica at 6:30 pm ET on TeleFutura and Mexico vs. Cuba at 9 pm ET on Univisión). The city is the latest to fall victim to “Chicharomania.”

There is also a frenzy for the Gold Cup tickets with fans from Florida and Illinois making the trek to Bank of America Stadium. “You have to take advantage of these opportunities when you can because you don't know if it'll happen again,” said one fan.

As the Gold Cup shifts to Florida on Friday and Saturday, there is some stunning news for fans of second-division side Fort Lauderdale Strikers. The FAA seems bent on reclaiming the land that Lockhart Stadium sits on by the end of this month.

Speaking of stadiums, there is a report from Las Vegas that indicates the development project that would have involved a soccer stadium has stalled.

One person is very confident that St. Louis will get an MLS team in the future. Heineman, who is Sporting KC’s president, says “St. Louis is going to get something done at some point … anything we can do to help, we will.”

Vancouver Whitecaps defender Jay DeMerit is doing all he can to help the local NHL side win the Stanley Cup. He hasn’t shaved since the Vancouver Canucks’ first playoff match. After the superstition helped his Green Bay Packers win the Super Bowl, DeMerit says, “The power of the beard is strong this year.”

With the start of the Women’s World Cup just days away, here’s the story of one Mexican national team hopeful who lives in the USA and has to give up her dreams for now to take care of her younger siblings given her parents’ trouble with the law.

The New York Cosmos continue to build toward their dream of one day having an MLS club as they attempt to woo an American player from New York, who plays in England’s championship, ahead of their first PDL season this summer.

Would this three-year-old put most MLS fans to shame? Watch this YouTube video of Joel Cotton who recites the entire San Jose Earthquakes lineup by heart. Yes, even the name “Anthony Ampaipitakwong.” (VIDEO)

Don’t underestimate kids. They do the darndest things, like this goal scored in an Under-11 match that is a rare occurrence in soccer: a volley taken with a back heel. (VIDEO)

MLSsoccer.com Must-Reads:

MLSsoccer.com’s Jackie Pickering interviews commissioner Don Garber on Sporting stadium opening

Special edition of ExtraTime Radio from LIVESTRONG Sporting Park

Another event for Citi Field in Queens added to World Football Challenge calendar

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