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Kick Off - Timbers Army (Sept. 15, 2012)
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Kick Off: Timbers, Sounders deliver in MLS debut on NBC

MLS won over some new fans this weekend.

It’s the natural result of good advertising and the league had the best advert it could have bargained for on network television as Portland and Seattle battled to a 1-1 tie on NBC (watch the highlights here and see the best photos here).

“I think it had everything,” said Seattle manager Sigi Schmid. “It had all the elements of what a good sporting event should be.”

The goal by Seattle’s Fredy Montero was alone worth the price of admission at JELD-WEN Field. But the Timbers were ultra-motivated to win the Cascadia Cup and didn’t just fold: "We have a belief in one another that maybe we didn't have early on in the season," Portland’s Jack Jewsbury said. "We're not going to put our heads down when we go down a goal and give then up a second and third."

“This was their MLS Cup final today," Schmid said of the Timbers. "They played and expended the energy that a team would expend in the MLS Cup final.”

“Cascadia Cup is the most important thing for them. It’s not for us. It’s MLS Cup,” said Sounders midfielder Steve Zakuani, who also admitted: “We didn’t want our fans to drive down on the bus carrying the trophy and go back empty handed.” As current holders of the Cascadia Cup, the Sounders get to hold onto it at least through October.

The Sounders received a message from their Emerald City Supporters about just how important the derby match with Portland is: honorary ECS memberships for all the players just before the game.

The other Cascadia team, the Vancouver Whitecaps, is seeing its grasp of the fifth and final playoff position slip away after their fifth loss in a row against a direct competitor. FC Dallas got a dramatic and spectacular 96th-minute winner from Julian de Guzman to keep their hopes very much alive of catching Vancouver in the standings (watch the highlights here).

De Guzman took the opportunity to rub the goal and FCD’s playoff chase into the face of his former employers at Toronto FC, who traded him to the Texas club in midseason: “I’ll never forget the words of [current TFC manager] Paul Mariner saying that he wants to make sure he’ll send me to a last-place team and let me burn in the heat,” de Guzman said. “Right now, who’s the last-place team in the league and who’s battling for the playoffs?”

Toronto FC fans, who are not taking that lightly, probably won’t take too well to learning this bit of news from Dallas manager Schellas Hyndman: “We got a great deal from Toronto and I’m happy to say Toronto’s still paying his salary, so for us, it was a great deal.”

From a Whitecaps perspective, they just can’t believe their luck these days: "Sometimes football is heartbreaking," Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit said. "Sometimes football is frustrating. Sometimes football is helpless. Anything that could have gone our way, didn't. … Things like this can't keep happening."

Vancouver now play four of their last five at home, while Dallas only has one of their remaining four matches at home – the season finale vs. Chivas USA.

While the race for the fifth spot in the West gets tighter, No. 1 looks more and more like the domain of the San Jose Earthquakes, who extended their lead atop MLS to five points with a 2-0 road win at Chivas USA (watch the highlights here).

The Goats, however, are livid that the turning point of the match was a PK call before halftime … made by the fourth official. “It’s not good when the fourth official is the most influential guy on the field as he was tonight by making that call.”

San Jose manager Frank Yallop believes that a Jon Busch save on a Casey Townsend header was the turning point, because he generally feels the goals will take care of themselves: “We could've scored more goals in the end," he said. "Even with a few different guys in the lineup tonight, we didn't really seem to miss a step with what we're doing. I feel confident that we're going to get chances against anybody."

Chivas manager Robin Fraser won’t get a chance to manage on Wednesday vs. the Columbus Crew after being ejected for protests by referee Chris Penso at halftime. Veteran defender Danny Califf sums up the moment for Chivas, who are winless in seven matches: "I don't think I've ever experienced such frustration in all the years I've played this game as a whole.”

On the opposite end of the emotional spectrum is New York Red Bulls star Thierry Henry, who stole the show in a 3-1 win over the Columbus Crew (watch the highlights here). He had two goals and an assist, but his “olimpico” strike directly off a corner kick is the one that’s making the rounds worldwide: “I’ve scored some OK goals in my career,” Henry said. “But I have to say, this one is not a bad one.”

“You can’t say anything about it; you just watch it and be in awe,” said New York midfielder Dax McCarty, who actually had the game-winner on a different Henry corner kick. It was McCarty’s goal sequence that saw Crew starting ‘keeper Andy Gruenebaum slam his face against the post, and his backup Matt Lampson enter the match only to be victimized by Henry. (VIDEO)

“I was quiet,” said Crew midfielder and ex-RBNY player Tony Tchani. “I couldn’t even be mad because what can you say about that goal? You can’t even get mad. You just have to give him credit.”

The Red Bulls victory sets up a massive midweek showdown at Red Bull Arena against Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday night (7 pm ET, MLS LIVE). With SKC rescuing a last-minute tie at home to Houston (highlights), NYRB are just two points behind in the race for the No. 1 spot in the East (see the standings here). "It's huge," McCarty said. "There's no other word to describe it. It's going to be a great game."

The Chicago Fire will be watching that midweek match intently. They’re just one point out of first place in the East and everything that manager Frank Klopas has touched this year is turning to gold. Or better yet, goals. In fact, three midseason newcomers found the back of the net in a come-from-behind win over Montreal (watch the highlights here): “This is what I expected, and a lot more," Klopas said. "They have a lot more to show. … I expect bigger and better things from them."

Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko is aiming for bigger and better things. This is as direct and outspoken any member of the Fire has been about winning the East: “The top spot is in sight. We want to host a conference championship game."

Although Montreal manager Jesse Marsch insists “we’re not out of it,” Impact fans may already be looking ahead to next year with just four matches remaining. And this columnist says that the area of improvement needs to be at wide midfield.

Real Salt Lake improved their squad this weekend even though they didn’t have a match: They have apparently signed Portuguese No. 10 midfielder David Viana, who’s an ex-member of Portugal’s youth national team set-up.

Toronto FC know where their improvement needs to come – between the ears. Read what recent arrival Darren O’Dea said after their 1-1 tie against Philadelphia, when the Union scored a late goal to equalize (watch the highlights here): “The team’s mentally weak,” he said. “Tough times in games we don’t hold out. … We’re not mentally strong enough.”

D.C. United put on a show of mental strength without injured captain and MVP Dwayne De Rosario, coming from behind for a critical 2-1 win over the New England Revolution after the visitors had gone up a goal (watch the highlights here). But D.C. manager Ben Olsen says there’s work to do: “It’s going to take a much better performance than this. We were rusty. We did not look good.”

No rust on Robbie Keane of the LA Galaxy. He scored the opener in the champions’ 2-0 win over the Colorado Rapids (watch the highlights here), but he’s also reportedly the subject of a legal dispute, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Another forward producing at the moment in league play is US forward Jozy Altidore of AZ Almaar, who registered a hat trick over the weekend. Watch the goals here by the top scorer in the Dutch Eredivisie. (VIDEO)

While Tottenham Hotspur’s US forward Clint Dempsey was busy exchanging jerseys with NBA star Rudy Gay (see the photo here), American ‘keeper Tim Howard will be occupied later today on the field when Everton host Newcastle United in EPL play (3 pm ET, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes). If you like Spain’s La Liga, beINSport has Real Valladolid facing Real Betis (3:30 pm ET).

Lastly, in case you haven’t heard which animal has been chosen as the Brazil 2014 World Cup mascot, find out here.

MLSsoccer.com Musts

Timbers Army on bittersweet draw with Seattle

Wondo making sure he’s not on losing end of Golden Boot tiebreaker

McCarty dedicates game-winning goal to Urso

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