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Kick Off: MLS set to kick off as rumors of Obafemi Martins & Kaka roll on

It’s here! Well, almost.

In a little more than 24 hours, Major League Soccer’s 18th season begins. And what better way to celebrate than having a whole host of star players supposedly heading to the league?

Obafemi Martins, Robert Earnshaw and Brazilian legend Kaká are just a few of the players reportedly close to coming to these shores.

The Seattle Sounders have, of course, reportedly been chasing Martins for some time, and on Thursday the Levante and Nigeria striker gave the biggest indication yet he is on his way to CenturyLink. “We are on the verge of finalising everything and it should be another step in my career," Martins told BBC Sport. "What the American club has offered is a good deal for everyone involved.

Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer would be thrilled to make it happen: “We think Martins would score a lot of goals in MLS. We think he would pair fantastically with Eddie Johnson. He's a very entertaining player fans would like.”

And from the "Huh?!?" department: It seems the Martins deal would bring Mario Balotelli’s brother to Seattle, too.

From a Nigerian former EPL striker to a Welsh former EPL striker. Cardiff City's Robert Earnshaw is in North America and on the verge of completing a move to Toronto FC. After TFC president Kevin Payne promised the cavalry was arriving earlier in the week, he hasn’t disappointed.

Earnshaw tweeted from the team’s flight to Vancouver for Saturday’s season opener (6:30 pm ET, TSN/RDS in Canada, MLS LIVE in USA) at BC Place. “Breaking news, I have now signed and officially [am] a Toronto FC player. Season starts this Saturday," Earnshaw continued. "Now on the plane flying to Vancouver for the opening game."

So with two strikers seemingly well on their way, the biggest star yet could be joining them in MLS this summer. That’s Kaká, according to his brother, Red Bulls defender Digão.

"It is a dream that he has, to come and play in the USA, and hopefully it will come true soon," the Madrid midfielder's brother told Goal.com. "I think he's been very curious about football in the United States and New York and about my experience living here. I've been relaying good things to him."

That revelation comes on the same day LA Galaxy top exec Tim Leiweke announced an update in LA’s search for a new DP: “I promise you, trust me, the best one's coming." Intriguing, to say the least. Or maybe just a coincidence. 

Anyway, there were plenty of confirmed signings yesterday evening as teams shuffled their pack one more time before the start of the season. Former Lyon and West Ham United striker Frédéric Piquionne joined Portland after impressing on trial.

The towering Frenchman will have a new jersey to wear for the Timbers, check out these terrific designs as some of the Timbers Army chants made it into the design. Snazzy and fan friendly, you can’t go wrong.

But it was case of one in, one out in the Rose City, as local boy Danny Mwanga was traded to the Colorado Rapids as the Piquionne deal went through. Mwanga will go straight into the Rapids squad as they travel to FC Dallas on Saturday (8:30 pm ET, watch on MLS LIVE.)

So rumors and trades aside, let’s get down to business and preview stories surrounding the weekend's opening games. Don’t forget you can watch all the non-nationally broadcast games on MLS LIVE (blackout rules do apply) or via MLS Direct Kick.

Staying up in Portland, the New York Red Bulls roll into town on Sunday evening (7:30 pm ET, watch live on ESPN2). Two rookie head coaches square off, and one of them, RBNY's Mike Petke, had some stern words about his side’s 2012 campaign.

“It was the mentality that was instilled, and it was the lack of faith and belief, to be honest with you, in what we were doing from many – if not all – of the players,” Petke told the New York Post’s Brian Lewis. “Somewhere along the line they lost it, and that’s one of the biggest things.’’

While Portland's rookie manager, Caleb Porter, fits together the final pieces of his roster in Portland, his players are aiming to make New York’s big names feel the heat in front of the Timbers Army. 

Staying out West and 2012 Supporters’ Shield winners San Jose host Real Salt Lake to kick off this campaign (Sunday, 10 pm ET, watch on MLS LIVE.)

Meanwhile RSL have a whole host of injuries heading into the game, these big names could be missing.

San Jose are still building their roster with room for maneuver ahead of the 2013 campaign, according to head coach Frank Yallop: “There’s options right now that we’re trying to [use to] at least fill some areas where we need [help].” 

Speaking of the Supporters’ Shield, ICYMI, the Independent Supporters Council and the Supporters’ Shield Foundation have designed and commissioned a new trophy. See what it looks like here.

By the Delaware River, Philadelphia Union host Sporting KC at PPL Park (Saturday, 4 pm ET, watch on MLS LIVE.) Union coach John Hackworth would have liked an easier start to his first full season in charge. “We know that we will have a very good, if not one of the best, teams in the league here on Saturday,” Hackworth said. “And that just means we have to get that much better sooner.”

The LA Galaxy host Chicago early (Sunday, 5 pm ET, live on UniMás) as they start the defense of their MLS Cup title.

And Chivas USA begin life under José Luis Sánchez Solá at home against the Columbus Crew on Saturday (10:30 pm ET, watch live on MLS Live here.) "Chelís" made it clear what he expects from his players this season: Everyone knows the responsibility that comes with wearing the Chivas jersey because the tradition of this club is something special. Whether that’s in the United States, Mexico or Nicaragua, this is Chivas and the entire world has a desire to represent the colors.”

And those colors will be seen in a new jersey as the Goats release their new strip for 2013 on Friday, the final team to do so in Jersey Week.

While Columbus are aiming for MLS Cup success this term after narrowly missing out on the playoffs. Catalyst for that playoff push in 2012 was Federico Higuaín. The Crew’s main man spoke of Columbus’ big hopes for 2013 in this exclusive interview with MLSsoccer.com

Breaking news this morning is that D.C. United have lost captain Dwayne De Rosario, after he was fined and suspended for two MLS games after a spat with Philadelphia Union midfielder Danny Cruz in preseason.

Ben Olsen had this to say: “I would love to defend Dwayne or my players, but this one, I can’t necessarily do that.”

But have no fear, Nick DeLeon and Chris Pontius are ready to fill his role against Houston (Saturday, 8 pm ET, NBC Sports Network.)

The Dynamo will have Brian Ching available, as the club legend re-signed on Thursday and will also assist Dominic Kinnear in a player-coach role.

Another of MLS’ newest head coaches starts his reign with the Montreal Impact, and for Marco Schällibaum it doesn’t get much tougher than travelling to Seattle to face the Sounders (Saturday, 10:30 pm ET, watch live on MLS Live here). But Montreal may fare well in their second season as an expansion franchise, as "2 Days 'til MLS" explains.

You may have noticed plenty of changes at MLSsoccer.com for the new season, (new design, features, content and much more) find out what is in store for the future as general manager of MLS Digital Chris Schlosser speaks to MLS Reserves in their latest podcast.

And if you haven’t signed up to play MLS Fantasy Soccer: Manager yet, it’s not too late. Sign up here now. Plus, MLSsoccer.com is releasing another game on Friday, called 3-Goal Monte, in which you pick three goalscorers for the weekend. It's harder than you think. 

OK, let’s sweep around the soccer world to see who everyone fancies to earn silverware this season. SI.com has its preseason power rankingsWhile Soccer America believes these eight new MLS imports will make the headlines in 2013. And here is their prediction of how the standings will lookSB Nation has its season preview.

Over at NBC Pro Soccer Talk, Steve Davis selects his preseason best XI but only took players eligible to play for the USMNT. Soccer By Ives gives his rookie rankings and their breakout best XI.

And of course we’ve been keeping our editors busy at MLSsoccer.com, so here are their picks for the 2013 MLS MVP.

To get you in the mood for this weekend’s action, if somehow you aren’t already, ESPN released a promo video for their 2013 MLS coverage.

One of the most interesting storylines this season is that three young stars will be following in their father’s footsteps by playing in MLS. Second generation MLSers if you will. Teal Bunbury, José Valencia and Konrad Warzycha are under the spotlight in this piece from Steven Goff at The Washington Post.

Across the pond it’s a huge weekend in the EPL, with Brad Friedel and Clint Dempsey’s Tottenham Hotspur taking on Arsenal in the North London Derby. (Sunday, 10:30 am ET, Fox Soccer)

While Manchester United look to extend their lead at the top of the EPL against Norwich City and SKC loanee Kei Kamara on Saturday (10 am ET, ESPN2.) And Liverpool travel to relegation threatened Wigan. (Saturday, 12:30 pm ET, Fox Soccer)

Finally, we have seen plenty of MLS teams and celebrities all over the US doing the Harlem Shake. Now the craze has spread to West London: Next stop, Fulham Football Club. Can you spot Dimitar Berbatov? 

MLSsoccer.com Musts

WATCH: MLSsoccer.com 2013 Season Roundtable: Being commissioner for the day, with Lalas, Twellman, Saghini, Wiebe and Waibel

LISTEN: ExtraTime Radio, Twellman on new ref rules, MLS Fantasy

The Throw-In: What can MLS learn from Real Salt Lake 2.0?

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