The Kick Off: Rivalry Week returns with Cascadia clash in Portland, plus heated MLS Cup rematch

Kick Off - Cascadia Cup

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

1.  GREEN WITH ENVY

This weekend sees the return of Rivalry Week, and what bigger rivalry is there than Saturday's clash between the Seattle Sounders vs. the Portland Timbers? (3 pm ET, NBCSN). Sigi Schmid certainly understands the occasion, comparing the games to playoff matches, as does Kenny Cooper, with the Sounders striker now set to have played for both teams in the rivalry. The Timbers, meanwhile, can welcome back Michael Harrington, after both he and FC Dallas’ Je-Vaughn Watson had their red cards rescinded following a joint appeal by both clubs.

2. LANDON DONOVAN, SUPER SUB?

The LA Galaxy take on Chivas USA on Sunday (3 pm ET, UniMas) and there could be some good news for Chivas USA as it seems Landon Donovan has been suffering from tendonitis in his left knee. That’s one of the reasons he didn’t start for the US national team on Wednesday, but could super-sub be Donovan’s new role at the World Cup? According to Donovan: “I’m fine with whatever. I like being a part of the team.”

3. WE DON’T LIKE YOU

Real Salt Lake take on Sporting Kansas City on Saturday (8:30 pm ET, MLS Live) for the first time since the two battled it out at MLS Cup back in December. Is this game a legitimate rivalry, though? Those involved clearly think so and there is absolutely no love lost between the two sides. Just check out Garth Lagerway’s own rendition of Jimmy Kimmel’s mean tweets, and listen to Matt Besler explain on ExtraTime Radio.

4. GRABAVOY’S TOUGH YEAR

Ned Grabavoy doesn’t often get the credit he deserves for his role in Real Salt Lake’s diamond midfield, but he’s a vital player all the same. Yet, despite Grabavoy enduring a difficult start to 2013 during which family concerns made soccer the farthest thing from his mind, the Chicago native went on to enjoy a quality season and, as the 30-year old says, “It just keeps getting better.”

5. TEXAS DERBY

Both the Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas have made fine starts to the season, but Saturday will provide a different test for both teams as they face each other in the Texas Derby (8 pm ET, Free MLS Stream of the Week). Ahead of that clash, the Houston Dynamo have sent another two players to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds as part of their affiliation with the USL PRO club, with midfielder Brian Ownby and goalkeeper Michael Lisch  joining the third-division side immediately.

6. ALL GROWN UP IN DC

Bobby Boswell made his return to D.C. United during the offseason, but while many things remain the same, both the player and the team find themselves in very different places than when Boswell left. One thing that has unfortunately changed for the worse is United’s attendance figures, and it seems D.C. really need to sort their new stadium sooner rather than later. Winning games might also help, and they’ll get another chance to do that when they welcome the New England Revolution to the RFK on Saturday (7 pm ET, MLS Live) with Charlie Davies making a strong case to face his former team.

7.  RAPID DEVELOPMENT

The Vancouver Whitecaps host the Colorado Rapids on Saturday (6:30 pm ET, MLS Live), and while Darren Mattocks may not have scored a goal this season, Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson is more than happy with his Jamaican striker’s performances. The Colorado Rapids, meanwhile, have cast another eye to the future and, although they may not have a USL PRO affiliation yet, the club has taken over the running of a new youth team in South Dakota.

8. BERRY’S RETURN

The Philadelphia Union head to the Chicago Fire on Saturday (5 pm ET, MLS live), former Fire defender turned Union man Austin Berry has plenty of reasons to look forward to the match. Yet on the other side of that coin, could the Union provide an opportunity for Mike Magee to regain his form and lead the Fire to their first win of the season?

9. RED BULLS LOOK FOR FIRST WIN

The Montreal Impact host the New York Red Bulls on Saturday (4 pm ET, TSN/RDS in Canada, MLS Live in US). The Impact’s defense still looks uncertain following Alesssandro Nesta’s retirement, and with the game being played on turf, the Red Bulls could also be without one of their most important defensive pieces in Jamison Olave. That’s to say nothing of Thierry Henry, but which player would the Red Bulls miss most?

10. PROBLEMS IN THE PORT

It looks like David Beckham’s planned stadium in PortMIami could be facing a serious problem, as according to Miami Mayor Tomas Regaldo the land Beckham’s group hope to build on was granted to Miami-Dade County on the condition that it be used exclusively for port purposes. However, rather than block the idea completely, Regaldo suggests he is in favor of putting the issue to a public vote so that “the public can say if they really want a stadium at PortMiami or not.”

11. BMO EXPANSION APPROVED

In slightly more positive stadium news, the Toronto City Council has voted 39-3 in favor of approving plans for expansion at BMO Field. The planned renovation now requires $10 million from both the province and the federal government before the upgrade can begin. With that work not set to start anytime soon, though, Toronto FC can turn their attention to the Columbus Crew (Saturday at 6 pm ET, MLS Live). Is it Michael Bradley’s unenviable task to try and stop Federico Higuain?

12. LENHART LAID UP

The San Jose Earthquakes have no game this weekend and that might actually work in their favor following news on Thursday that Steven Lenhart has been ruled out for at least a month following a sprained ligament.

13. HEADING SOUTHEAST

For any Sounders fans hoping this year might be the one for David Estrada, you might be right. Sadly, it doesn’t seem like it’ll be in the Pacific Northwest, as the 26-year-old forward has been loaned to the NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks. However, as Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid sees it, the loan is “just an opportunity for him to get some games, we can recall him at any time that we need to.” In other movements, Orlando City have recruited two college coaches to help run their youth academy, while another youth organization in Florida looks set to benefit from Thomas Rongen’s return stateside.

14. US ISSUES

Wednesday’s game against Mexico presented quite a few talking points for US fans, one of which was the rare appearance of a 4-4-2 formation, often shunned by Jurgen Klinsmann in the past. It certainly allowed for some standout performances and, to many, Michael Bradley was absolutely outstanding. However, is there any cause for concern over Omar Gonzalez’s performance?

15. LEGENDS OF THE GAME

Brazilian legend Pelé spent his entire career playing in Brazil and the United States, so when the three-time World Cup winner suggests that both youth and women's soccer is better in America than it is in Brazil, perhaps it’s worth paying attention. Elsewhere, Jose Mourinho, another of global soccer’s biggest personalities, was responsible for a moving gesture towards Shawn Kuykendall’s family.

MLSsoccer.com Musts

MLS Insider: Jason Kreis on his time in Manchester

Rookie Rankings: Harrison Shipp makes early case for Rookie of the Year

ExtraTime Radio: Is SKC-RSL a real rivalry? Matt Besler sure thinks so.

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