Kick Off: Pressure? What pressure? Timbers' Donovan Ricketts guarantees trophies in Portland

Donovan Ricketts, Kick Off

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USA Today Sports

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

1. TIMBERS TROPHIES ON THE WAY

It’s still uncertain whether Nick Rimando will be able to play this weekend, but one face Real Salt Lake players are not looking forward to seeing on Saturday is former player Will Johnson, as both he and the Portland Timbers head to Utah in search of their first win of the season (9:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE). It’s a win that must come sooner or later, though, especially as Timbers keeper Donovan Ricketts is making guarantees: “Come at the end of the season, you’ll see trophies.” No matter what Ricketts guarantees, the pressure is real in Portland according to The Oregonian's Geoffrey Arnold, who appeared with one-time Timbers target Mix Diskerud on ExtraTime Radio.

2. HEADING SOUTH

Now that Atlanta has been officially confirmed as an expansion franchise, it’s worth looking at how the city and MLS came together in the first place. As mentioned during the press conference, it’s a courtship that dates back a good few years. Now it's all about the future, and Arthur Blank laid out his vision to ESPN’s Alexi Lalas. Finally, with the three confirmed expansion teams all firmly out east, what could that mean for the two conferences?

3. ROSALES IN LOVE

Ask Mauro Rosales about his time with the Seattle Sounders and it’s clear the winger still has a lot of love for his old team. Yet Chivas USA fans will be hoping he can put that love aside this weekend when the team takes on a Sounders side which, with the return of Brad Evans, could be getting even stronger (Sat., 10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE). One person the goats can’t call upon this weekend is Eriq Zavaleta, with the on-loan defender barred from playing against his parent club, but it appears Chivas USA have signed a suitable replacement in the form of Matt Dunn.

4. MASTROENI NOT AFRAID OF ANYONE

When Pablo Mastroeni became the head coach of the Colorado Rapids, he became the latest in a growing number of former players now coaching their old MLS teams. Yet, in Denver, this seems to be the current trend among all their sports franchises. Mastroeni has certainly done a good job so far, building on Oscar Pareja’s solid foundation, and the former US international is so confident in his team he insists “I’m not concerned with the dangers other teams pose.” That theory may be put to the test this Saturday when the San Jose Earthquakes come to town (6 pm ET, MLS LIVE).

5. TEIBERT TIME

It’s time for Part II of the Vancouver Whitecaps and the LA Galaxy’s double header (Sat., 7 pm ET, MLS LIVE, TSN in Canada). The Galaxy won the first encounter 1-0, but the Whitecaps are back on home turf and while the result may once again come down to how well the 'Caps can contain Robbie Keane, midfielder Russell Teibert proved himself more than capable of handling some of the Galaxy’s trickier players.

6. TORONTO FC’S DEFENSIVE DUO

With Doneil Henry out for the past two games, Mark Bloom has stepped up and, in doing so, earned a great deal of praise from both the media and, more importantly, his head coach: “He’s been our most consistent player this year.” Bradley Orr has been earning plaudits of his own as TFC’s injury problems continued to worsen, but what role either player will play in Saturdays game against FC Dallas (8:30 pm ET, MLS Free Stream of the Week) remains to be seen.

7. ARE UNITED A PLAYOFF-CALIBER SIDE?

The Columbus Crew head into the weekend’s game against D.C. United (Sat., 7:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE) with a variety of injury concerns, most notably involving Dominic Oduro and Jairo Arrieta, United’s own problems have enabled Andrew Dykstra to make his mark on the team, with the goalkeeper recording two appearances and two shutouts so far. With United’s record now at 2-2-1, is this United team showing signs of being one that can reach the playoffs

8. TIME RUNNING OUT IN MONTREAL?

With the Montreal Impact still winless after six games the question has been asked: Is time already running out for Frank Klopas? The Canadian side faces another tough test this weekend when it takes on Sporting Kansas City at Sporting Park (8:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE) and, for now, Klopas is about the potential partnership of McInerney and Di Vaio continue this week.

9. UNION LOOKING FOR A WIN

The Philadelphia Union will be playing their third game in eight days when they take on the Houston Dynamo this Saturday (4 pm ET, MLS LIVE), and with the Dynamo coming into the match on a three-game losing streak, Union head coach John Hackworth hopes to finish the stretch with a win. While the Union attempt to find a rhythm this season, have they been responsible for huge improvements in the USL PRO? The Harrisburg City Islanders certainly think so.

10. THE RETURN OF GRANDPRE

Following their first win of the season and a strong performance by Eric Alexander, the New York Red Bulls are done for the week. Now the team can turn its attention to other matters, such as the return of Marc de Grandpre to the club’s front office as head of commercial operations. De Grandpre was formerly the Red Bulls interim general manager and then a managing director before leaving in 2008.

11. DONOVAN HAPPY WITH ANY ROLE

Having acknowledged that age is starting to play a role in his selection for the US national team, Landon Donovan insists he will be happy with whatever role he can get at this summer’s World Cup. Donovan also seems optimistic about the US’ chances in their difficult World Cup group: “If you play three very good games, chances are you’re going to advance, we couldn’t always say that in the past … but now we can say that.”

12. SEMIS SET

Following the final round of group matches on Thursday, the teams are all set for Friday’s semifinals in the Generation adidas Cup. There will be one MLS team in the final, with the winner of FC Dallas-Real Salt Lake set to play either Stoke City or Flamengo on Sunday, with all the games broadcast live on MLSsoccer.com. Staying in Texas, the US Under-20s have emerged successfully from their group at the Dallas Cup. While team Captain Paul Arriola is putting in strong performances, the Club Tijuana player is just happy to be playing with the US squad again.

13. CONCACAF EXPORTS ON DIFFERENT PATHS

There were two very different stories for a pair of pivotal CONCACAF players on Thursday. US No. 1 goalkeeper Tim Howard has signed an extension with EPL side Everton until 2018, with manager Roberto Martinez stating, “I cannot see past him to choose the best goalkeeper in the league.” Sadly, there is no such glowing praise for Mexican striker Javier Hernandez, with news emerging that the little-used substitute is likely to be sold this summer. Would you like to see him join an MLS team?

14. LIONS SIGN CRUYFF

In 1979, Dutch Legend Johan Cruyff signed for the NASL's Los Angeles Aztecs, playing a full season before joining the Washington Diplomats. Now, 35 years later, there’s another Cruyff heading to the US, with Jesjua Angoy Cruyff, grandson of the former Dutch International, joining the Dayton Dutch Lions in the USL PRO.

15. ORLANDO CITY WANT YOUR HELP

Be honest. At some point you've dreamed up what it would be like to have your own stadium and all the bells and whistles you'd put into it. Well, Orlando City want those ideas. They were so impressed by the stadium design ideas offered up by their supporters club that OCSC have opened it up to all fans to submit ideas to the club. Even if you don't live in Orlando, feel free to chip in. Here's how you can do it.

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