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Kick Off: The wait is finally over – Major League Soccer's 19th season is just hours from kicking off

Here are the top 15 soccer stories we’re following today:


The new MLS season is just one day away and so here’s another season preview, this time from The Guardian, examining each team’s chances. There are also several milestones that the league and its players are approaching this year to keep an eye on as well and don’t forget to get your MLS fantasy team ready if you want to pick up points in Round 1. If you're looking for a league to join, here are some great options and why not join The Kick Off's league (code 4839-3335) as well?


It may have taken a while to work out the details, but Eddie Johnson and D.C. United have finally come to terms on a deal which sees the US international become a Designated Player. Johnson recently sat down with SI.com’s Grant Wahl and discussed his move from Seattle as well as growing responsibility with the US national team.


There was also news on Thursday about another potential new Designated Player in the league, as it seems Mike Magee’s absence from the Chicago Fire’s preseason camp looks set to land the 2013 MVP a brand new contract. No such luck for Yazid Atouba, as the 21-year-old midfielder was waived by the Fire.


Clint Dempsey returned to Seattle on Thursday and it appears the Designated Player will play some role in Saturday’s season opener against Sporting Kanas City. Yet, for those continuing to question Dempsey’s winter loan, Sigi Schmid had something to say on the matter. While a fully fit Dempsey could, in theory, be like a new signing for the Sounders this year, the club has actually made two new signings, with Brazilian Fabio Pereira, the 77th pick in this year’s SuperDraft, signing a deal along with Charleston Battery midfielder Michael Azira.


Heath Pearce has joined the Montreal Impact. Coming off hip surgery in 2013, and with a large hit against their salary cap, the New York Red Bulls chose not to retain Pearce for the new season. However, the left back has impressed the Impact during preseason training, with sporting director Nick De Santis stating, “His experience and soccer savvy will bring a lot to the team.


If the Portland Timbers are among the favorites to win MLS Cup this season, then a lot of that is because of the efforts of general manager Gavin Wilkinson, whom Timbers owner Merritt Paulson believes personifies the club's hard-working culture. So just how did Wilkinson help put the Timbers in this position and, better yet, how did he arrive at this point in his career himself?


New Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt has made it clear since the start that the club will, at some point, be getting something of a rebrand. He's also been talking about where the club is up to in that process. The soccer side has already undergone a change, and the Crew are more focused than ever on returning to their winning ways. The club also has a new TV deal in place ready for the start of the season.


Luis Gil is one of the most promising young talents in the United States and a stalwart of the Real Salt Lake starting XI at just 20 years of age. Having made his debut for the senior US national team at the end of the January camp, can a good start to the season with Real Salt Lake help Gil push on and secure a place in the World Cup squad? According to the player himself, “That’s going to be up to me.”


US Soccer has announced the final venues and opposition for the US national team's pre-World Cup matches this summer, with games against Azerbaijan, Turkey and Nigeria scheduled to take place in San Francisco, Jacksonville and New Jersey, respectively. It’s all part of the plan to, hopefully, help the USMNT progress past the group stage at this summer’s tournament, and it seems one well-known Portuguese coach believes they can pull it off.


Thierry Henry is entering the final year of his contract with the New York Red Bulls and, while the desire to win an MLS Cup is more pressing than ever, the Frenchman cast aside any notion of "going out on top." Henry and Tim Cahill are among the contingent of imported stars that currently entertain New York soccer fans, but recently re-elected US Soccer president Sunil Gulati has challenged the city to start producing better players of its own.


Could this be the future for BMO Field? Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment and Toronto city officials have released renderings of what the stadium could look like if the ground is expanded. With 30,000 seats and a roof over the stands, it certainly has a different feel to it than the current set-up.


If you were worried that Chivas USA’s new professional direction might mean the club would no longer generate bizarre stories, then fear not. The club has chosen to waive Fejiro Okiomah, a player they signed a mere six weeks ago. Of course, in reality, while being unfortunate for Okiomah, this is another example of the new ownership steering the club in a new direction.


The Vancouver Whitecaps have added South African defender Ethen Sampson to their roster, after the player spent the past season playing for the Whitecaps U-23s. Sampson becomes the sixth Homegrown player on the team's current roster and the ninth all-time. If he gets to see any game time this year, he’ll most likely be lining up alongside Steven Beitashour, who, despite only just returning from Iran, is ready to go this weekend.


MLS Commissioner Don Garber was on hand, along with Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, to watch 68,212 fans crowd into the Georgia Dome for Mexico’s friendly against Nigeria, something that certainly bodes well for soccer’s future in the city. Blank called it “a great tribute to Atlanta and the appetite that Atlanta has for soccer at the highest level.” Heading a little further south, it seems that David Beckham faces opposition to his proposed stadium location from rival bidders for the land.


Let’s finish the week on a high note with two really positive stories from around the world. First, despite the latest in a long line of injuries, Bolton Wanderers refuse to give up on Stuart Holden, with manager Dougie Freedman stating, “I want Stuart here for many, many years in many different capacities.” Second, check out what happened when a 7-year-old pitch invader met the Brazilian national team. Plus, look at all the home jerseys.

MLSsoccer.com Musts

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