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Around The Forest: MLS MVP Diego Valeri reflects on his journey to MLS stardom

Also: TFC insists there's no added pressure, 7 Thorns make 50 Best Women players, Vanny and the Conte connection and more!

Portland

MLS MVP Diego Valeri reflects on his unique journey to stardom in Portland | Portland Timbers
When Diego Valeri first considered leaving Club Atletico Lanús in Argentina for the faraway destination of the Portland Timbers, he knew nothing about the club or the city. As he put it with a shake of his head on Monday: "Nothing at all." The initial draw, he said, was MLS itself, a league he became familiar with through Javier Morales, who played with Valeri at Lanús before leaving for Real Salt Lake in 2007.

FourFourTwo USA's 50 Best American Women's Players of 2017 includes seven Thorns FC players | Portland Timbers
FourFourTwo USA released their 50 Best American Women's Players of 2017 list and it includes seven Thorns FC players:

Major League Soccer

Vancouver Whitecaps ink midfielder Russell Teibert to new 3-year deal | MLSsoccer.com
The 24-year-old Teibert is the longest serving player on the Whitecaps, having first joined the club's residency program in September 2008 and signing an MLS Homegrown Player contract in 2011. The holding midfielder has made 141 appearances in all competitions for Vancouver's first team, scoring twice. His first appearance came in the club’s first ever MLS match on March 19, 2011.

Despite chance at MLS Cup redemption, TFC insist there's no added pressure | MLSsoccer.com
From the moment Seattle Sounders defender Roman Torres made his penalty kick to defeat Toronto FC in MLS Cup 2016, the Reds have put considerable pressure on themselves to win their first league title this year.

Signed: Artur staying with Crew SC after loan deal made permanent | MLSsoccer.com
News of the impending departure of Columbus Crew SC midfielder Artur were, as it turned out, greatly exaggerated. It appeared last week that the 21-year-old Brazilian would be returning to Sao Paolo FC following a year-long loan spell in Ohio, but on Tuesday Crew SC announced that they had secured a permanent deal for 2018.

Full list of 2018 MLS preseason matches | MLSsoccer.com
MLS teams won't open camp until the end of January, but the process of building out preseason schedules in preparation for the 2018 campaign is already well underway. Here’s a rundown of all the preseason friendlies MLS teams have on the books. This list will be updated as more matches are added:

How Antonio Conte helped Greg Vanney implement Toronto FC's 3-5-2 | MLSsoccer.com
Greg Vanney's head coaching career at Toronto FC started off with some disappointment as he failed to qualify the club for the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs in 2014, after being appointed to the position on Aug. 31 of that year.

Armchair Analyst: House money & a hot streak for Seattle in MLS Cup return | MLSsoccer.com
It's probably a pretty good bet that the Seattle Sounders will be just fine with the intensity of Saturday's MLS Cup (4 pm ET; ESPN & UniMas in the US | TSN1/4/5 & TVAS in Canada) despite their relatively easy path through the Western Conference bracket. Vancouver never attacked and Houston never defended, and that's how what's supposed to be a playoff grind turns into a comfortable autumn stroll.

A visual history of MLS Cup match balls since 1996 | MLSsoccer.com
This Saturday's MLS Cup sees Toronto FC trying, for the second year in a row, to win their fans the ultimate trophy at home. And it looks like the match, whose coverage starts at 4 pm ET on Sat., Dec. 9 (ESPN and UniMás in US, TSN and TVAS in Canada), could be a cold one. That means we could see a rare sighting of the bright-orange match ball made for snow -- or maybe not! But while we count down the days and hours until kickoff, let's take a look at how MLS Cup match balls have looked every year since 1996.

Warshaw: Why MLS Cup 2017 is a big deal for three USMNT greats | MLSsoccer.com
Most professional athletes fight everyday to make it to tomorrow. They can never look past the next practice or the next game. Every second is a battle to stay relevant. The second they retire they become nothing more than a data point on a blogger’s spreadsheet.

United States

U.S. ratings for 2018 World Cup draw down 87 percent from previous cycle
English-language coverage last Friday on Fox's FS1 averaged 65,000 viewers from 10-11:05 a.m. ET, down 87 percent from a record average of 489,000 for the 2014 draw televised by ESPN2 from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. ET on Dec. 6, 2013.

ASN article: Sunil Gulati's Successor Must Solve These Six Issues
SUNIL GULATI will not seek reelection as president of U.S. Soccer, thereby ending a 12-year tenure and ensuring that the federation will be run under new leadership at many different levels. The news was first reported by ESPNFC.

World

'Disappointing' Borussia Dortmund don't deserve to advance - Peter Bosz
"We started very poorly," the 54-year-old told his postgame news conference, adding: "But eventually you could see a team that can play good football and work together. We also showed that we have a lot of great players and it will be good for Dortmund's future when more return from injury after the winter break."

Polarising Players: Ozil, Fellaini, Luiz, Benzema, Altidore, Bradley, Higuain
You know the kind of player who just divides opinion wherever he goes? Well, ESPN FC has picked out seven of the best, and you can watch why we think they are so polarizing below

Champions League: Pochettino lauds Tottenham's back-ups | Goal.com
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino praised his fringe players after they ensured the club's Champions League Group H campaign finished with a flourish on Wednesday. Pochettino made eight changes from the team that drew 1-1 with Watford in the Premier League at the weekend, but his new-look side cruised to a comfortable 3-0 win over APOEL at Wembley.