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Kick Off - Carlos Bocanegra

Kick Off: Captain claims USMNT are hitting their peak

The USA promise that the dominant 2-0 quarterfinal win over Jamaica was not just a one-off.

Ahead of tonight’s Gold Cup semifinal against Panama (7 p.m. ET, Fox Soccer and Univisión), USA captain Carlos Bocanegra feels like the USMNT is “peaking at the right time.” He also points out how Central American teams “have a funny style of play” which makes them difficult to deal with and may help explain the group-stage loss.

Mexico star Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, who plays in the second semifinal doubleheader at sold-out Reliant Stadium vs. Honduras (10 p.m. ET, Univisión), may feel like Houston is a second home for him. But it means even more to the USA’s Clint Dempsey, who comes from Nacogdoches, Texas, and wants everyone to know about it: “This is where I came from, and I put the star where Nacogdoches is … when I go out, I always try to rep 'em."

The USA’s Michael Bradley might have more on his mind than just the semifinal tonight. The Aston Villa experiment is over, according to a report which confirms that the US midfielder won’t be returning after the expiration of his loan deal. Hear what Bradley himself has to say about his future.

The Gold Cup matches are huge but the two MLS league matches on tap tonight have major implications. First, the Philadelphia Union have fallen to second place in the Eastern Conference after stumbling in recent matches but they have a chance to retake first place with a win against Sporting Kansas City at PPL Park tonight (7:30 p.m. ET, MatchDay Live). Sporting can pull within six points of Philly with a road win.

The question in the Philadelphia camp is whether manager Peter Nowak will continue to tinker with the forward combinations. Carlos Ruiz is back but Nowak may want to insist on Veljko Paunovic, while Danny Mwanga waits and hopes for a start. The manager’s philosophy: “We can mix things up and create different looks and keep teams guessing.”

The other league match tonight sees the Chicago Fire hosting Real Salt Lake (8:30 p.m. ET, MatchDay Live). RSL will be missing a striker due to suspension after Jean Alexandre was sanctioned by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for a reckless tackle. RSL manager Jason Kreis was not happy about Alexandre’s suspension, stating “I didn’t see anything in it.”

Kreis will be pressed to field a new strike partner for Fabián Espíndola without Álvaro Saborío and Arturo Alvarez. And it’s still unclear whether Will Johnson will play after returning from Canadian national team duty. But the ex-Fire midfielder is sure of one thing: “My family might actually outnumber the Chicago Fire fans, so it will be cool.”

Meanwhile, Fire fans will be interested to hear that the agent for Freddie Ljungberg claims that there is interest from Chicago and other US clubs in reacquiring the former Swedish international. (SWEDISH)

Another Swede, New York Red Bulls manager Hans Backe, is pondering a Dane Richards-Dwayne De Rosario strike force on Thursday with Juan Agudelo (US national team), Luke Rodgers (injury) and Thierry Henry (suspension) all out of action. In the meantime he joined the RBNY chorus complaining about the Henry red card from the weekend. He told reporters, “If it was written down as violent conducts, it is a joke.”

That’s not the only controversy from the weekend that requires follow-up. Many have taken issue with the play which led to an equalizing goal by D.C. United’s Charlie Davies at Real Salt Lake, calling it a dive. In his first and only comment on the controversy, Davies refuses to call it a dive: “I wouldn’t use dive … I’d use embellishment. It’s selling it, that’s the word I’d use.”

Here’s a photo of FC Dallas star Brek Shea and Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington. Wait … come again? Turns out a handful of FCD players took in a baseball game and got the celebrity treatment. (PHOTO)

Speaking of celebrities, the Steve Nash soccer event also takes place today in New York's Chinatown at 6 p.m. ET. In the lead-up to the game, Nash will also be taking part in a chat to be held in 50 languages.

In other televised soccer action today, the US Under-17 national team, which defeated the Czech Republic handily in its first match, face Uzbekistan today in their second group match at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup (4 p.m. ET, Galavisión). Meanwhile, the manager of the US U-17s back in the 80s, who coached players like Claudio Reyna, says that “I expected it [US soccer] to be further along than it is now.” Find out why.

All but one of the US Open Cup second round matches was played last night. While the Chicago Fire PDL side are forced to play tonight after their game was suspended due to lightning, see all the other results here. Some of the third round matchups will feature a few derbies: LA Galaxy vs. LA Blues and New York Red Bulls vs. FC New York.

Will it be the final goodbye from Neymar before he heads to Real Madrid? His Brazilian club Santos goes for the ultimate prize in South American soccer later tonight holding a 1-0 first-leg lead as they head home to face Peñarol in the Copa Libertadores finale. Here’s a preview. (8:30 p.m. ET, Fox Deportes)

“Coach, I can’t make preseason because I fell out of a cherry tree.” That’s the call that one high-profile forward in Germany had to make yesterday.

Lastly, another one for the “wild and wacky” files. The top scorer in the Russian league was hit by a riot policeman’s stun gun after a road win. Zenit St. Petersburg is filing an official complaint.

MLSsoccer.com Must-Reads:

Panama national team coach says they can beat the USA again

Seattle players not concerned in the least with Thierry Henry’s absence for Thursday match

Has the youth movement come too soon for Toronto FC?

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