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Kick Off - Landon Donovan USA

Kick Off: Donovan's sub role vs. Panama triggers debate

Landon Donovan says that sitting on the bench last night brought back childhood memories of the time his mother forced him to sit out a game after he got in trouble at school. It worked for the USA last night.

The spark that the LA Galaxy star provided off the bench — assisting on the game-winning goal — proved the difference in the victorious Gold Cup semifinal against Panama [watch the highlights here]. And the debate will rage on through Saturday: Does he start or is he best coming off the bench against Mexico in the final?

For their part, El Tri needed extra time to dispatch a feisty Honduras side that finally succumbed to two set pieces, including one converted by Javier “Chicharito” Hernández using his stomach. Watch the highlights here.

Interesting to read that Donovan was singing Chicharito’s praises, calling him “the hottest striker in the world.”

Equally revealing to see Clint Dempsey’s take on the ovation the US team received after the final whistle from the largely pro-Mexican crowd at sold-out Reliant Stadium: “A lot of people that were in the stands tonight that were maybe wearing a green jersey are making a living here and they have maybe a little more appreciation for this country.”

The first Gold Cup semifinal wasn’t even halfway through when CONCACAF announced that all 90,000 tickets at the Rose Bowl were sold out for Saturday’s final, which is surely the one everyone wanted to see: a rematch of the 2009 final which Mexico won 5-0.

The action on the American soccer scene continues at a vertiginous pace. Tonight we’ll see if the first-place New York Red Bulls can withstand key absences to their forward corps — including the suspension of Designated Player Thierry Henry — and take something away from the trip to CenturyLink Field, where they face the Seattle Sounders (10 p.m. ET, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes).

The Sounders have opened the upper deck seating for the first time in MLS league play and quickly saw tickets gobbled up by the passionate local supporters. They’re talking about a record crowd tonight for an MLS match between 45,000 and 50,000 fans. While some may think those are Henry-inspired numbers, Kasey Keller begs to differ: "The cool part about it is our fans are coming to watch the Sounders, they're not coming to watch Thierry Henry."

In Seattle, they’re facing the prospect of three matches in five days, beginning with tonight’s match against New York. They will have just one day’s rest before beginning the defense of their US Open Cup title on Tuesday and the issue even has Sounders manager Sigi Schmid befuddled.

That’s just how Real Salt Lake manager Jason Kreis is feeling after watching his only experienced forward, Argentine Fabián Espíndola, go down to injury after just seven minutes in Wednesday night’s match in Chicago. “Tonight for 80 or 70 minutes of the game, we have an apprentice player and a 17-year-old as our two forwards out there,” Kreis said.

It’s no wonder the match at Toyota Park finished 0-0 between RSL and the Fire. It’s a league-high 10th draw for Chicago, who still have allowed only one goal in five undefeated matches under new manager Frank Klopas (1-0-4). He has goalkeeper Sean Johnson to thank after another highlight-reel save on the best chance of last night's game. (VIDEO)

It also finished 0-0 at PPL Park as the Philadelphia Union saw their winless streak reach four matches while Sporting Kansas City is now undefeated in six. With Danny Mwanga sitting the match out due to injury, the Union fielded yet another new lineup which couldn’t find the back of the net despite relentless pressure. Watch the highlights here. (VIDEO)

The Philadelphia Union got 26 shots off while Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón didn’t have to make a single save. The tie does not sit well with Philly forward Jack McInerney: “[Sporting] didn’t have a chance all game, we were on them for 90 minutes. … It’s frustrating to have another team come in here and tie us when they didn’t even get a chance on goal.”

Sporting KC get set to welcome Vancouver this weekend. In Whitecaps camp there’s “more attention to detail” under Tom Soehn, who is not shy to point out that the direct, run-and-gun attack under Teitur Thordarson has been replaced by “compact and organized”: “When I looked at our stats, we gave up more shots than anybody. … If you look at the last game we barely gave them anything.”

At last night’s "Showdown in Chinatown" hosted by NBA superstar and Vancouver Whitecaps co-owner Steve Nash, Giuseppe Rossi spoke about a possible move to Barcelona. The New Jersey native, cited in the article as the best soccer player ever produced by the USA, says: “I don’t want to get my hopes too up.”

Find out which celebrities participated and who showed the most skill at the fourth annual event organized by Nash.

There will be two Chicago Fire teams in the final 16 teams left standing in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. The Chicago Fire PDL side won their game that was played last night, 2-0 at the Madison 56ers.

Lastly, on Wednesday night we saw the two faces of South American soccer. First, there were the celebrations in Brazil, where Santos defeated Peñarol 2-1 in the second leg to win the Copa Libertadores. Here’s the video, which includes a brilliant Neymar goal.

Just a stone's throw away in Argentina, a masked man led a threatening invasion of the field as storied club River Plate moved a step closer to relegation.

MLSsoccer.com Must-Reads:

Adu makes the most of a rare chance and delivers big time

US player ratings after Gold Cup semifinal victory over Panama

USA fall to Uzbekistan in Under-17 FIFA World Cup group match

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