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Martin Rennie
Courtesy of Vancouver Whitecaps

Kick Off: New striker stokes Vancouver-Montreal rivalry

There's more than one way to stoke a rivalry.

Despite never meeting in MLS action, Montreal and Vancouver have an extensive history, with several folds added just this offseason. According to Etienne Barbara, who had to wriggle out of his obligation to the Impact, Vancouver snatched Montreal's first-choice coach, Martin Rennie. The Impact then turned to Jesse Marsch, but neither organization or the coaches have discussed the coup until Barbara dished.

The teams play tonight in the Disney Pro Soccer Classic (8 pm ET, MLSsoccer.com Channel 2), but don't expect a friendly tone from the two Canadian clubs. “You have to make tackles,” Donovan Ricketts said. “And if someone feels the tackle is unfair and then we take it over into the first game of the season, then it's already a derby game.”

The match will also offer a chance for players to stake their claims for starting roles. Atiba Harris missed much of the 2011 season with two knee surgeries and, now fit again, has his eye on a return. During the long months out, his cousin would text him often to check in. That cousin? A certain Manchester City fullback.

On the opposite side is Lamar Neagle, fresh from his trade from Seattle. “In the long run, this is better for my career,” Neagle said. “The more minutes I get on the field, the better I’m going to be and the more money I can eventually make.”

Vancouver-Montreal is the nightcap on the opening day of the Disney Pro Soccer Classic. The opener is Houston-Sporting KC, at 6 pm ET, also LIVE on MLSsoccer.com Channel 2.

Geographical separation isn't getting in the way of another rivalry: Celtic sent out an email to their fans in Seattle to urge them to support their sister club Santos Laguna in the CCL quarterfinals against the Sounders. Former Bhoy Marc Crosas now plays for the Mexican side.

One player not playing for a Mexican side right now is out-of-contract striker Adolfo "Bofo" Bautista. Several reports suggested he was headed to Chicago, but Fire boss Frank Klopas nixed all of that: “I have not reached out to Bautista. I have not spoken to any of his representatives, so those are just rumors.”

Bautista's international teammate Rafa Márquez played on Thursday in the New York Red Bulls' 0-0 draw with Pumas UNAM. Thierry Henry returned from his loan with Arsenal, but neither side could produce a goal. “It's a friendly,” Márquez shrugged.

In other friendly news from yesterday, Portland beat Oregon State 1-0 through a goal from newcomer Hayner Mosquera. But is wasn't all good news: Franck Songo'o and Mamadou "Futty" Danso limped out of the match. "We were dropping like flies out there," coach John Spencer said.

Philadelphia, meanwhile, will continue preseason in Costa Rica. According to manager Peter Nowak, the team is trying “to glue it together” ahead of the 2012 season.

For Toronto FC, continuity is the glue that has helped ease the nerves in camp. "I feel more at ease since we have many returning guys this season," Ashtone Morgan said. “It makes things a lot easier and we’re not rushing to meet new people.”

Others, of course, are trying to become one of the new faces at clubs. Björn Runström, on trial with the New England Revolution, is trying to earn an MLS deal. The last contract he signed? On the ice during a Hammarby hockey game.

Besides evaluating trialists and incorporating new bodies, the offseason for the Sounders involves trying to replace Kasey Keller. No, not in goal — as captain. Five players are being considered. “I guess I don't approach the captaincy with the drum roll, the hoopla and the fanfare that some people [do],” Sigi Schmid said.

Keller has now taken a position in the Sounders commentary box. Previously, that spot was manned by Arlo White. Watch as White previews the upcoming season on NBC Sports, which will carry MLS games nationally in 2012. (VIDEO)

Another national broadcaster thinks the league's main battle for eyeballs is commanding respect from soccer fans who continue to look overseas. "The concern is how to get those fans and make them appreciate and respect MLS,” Rob Stone said. "Perception is a big part of everything."

You never know who's watching. That's what a 13-year-old from Sydney learned during a training camp with the LA Galaxy. After a perfectly executed tackle on Brooklyn Beckham, Leroy Jennings received a recommendation from Brooklyn's father, David, and the club signed Jennings to an academy deal.

Now Jennings is on the same team as Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle. Those two, plus Houston's Geoff Cameron and RSL's Nick Rimando, make up the MLS contingent on the US roster to face Italy next week.

As those LA-based attackers jet to Genoa, another is just happy to have made it to SoCal. New Chivas USA signing Cesar Romero prepped for the season by playing indoor for the Tijuana Revolucion in the PASL. “Indoor was just a little pastime, a little hobby,” he said. “Not even a hobby. My friend's a coach for them, and he said, 'Do you want to help me out?' I wasn't doing much.”

Now Romero has landed a first team contract. So, too, has Emmanuel Ekpo. The former Columbus Crew midfielder signed a three-year deal with Molde FK.

Lastly, Chivas Guadalajara has a signee: Johan Cruyff. He comes on as an adviser, with the stated goal “to make the Chivas the best team in the world." Chivas needed some positive PR as it has two points from seven games, is in last place, and is trying to boycott daily newspaper Récord.

MLSsoccer.com Must-Reads:

The Throw-In: Chelsea could take lesson from MLS

ExtraTime Radio podcast: Benny Feilhaber and Mike Fucito

Road Trip To First Kick: 2012


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