Breaking News: It's a HUGE Football Weekend (not that football, the other kind)

Breaking News: It's a HUGE Football Weekend (not that football, the other kind)

United States' soccer players run during a training session ahead of their 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match with Costa Rica, in San Jose, Costa Rica, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013. The U.S. will face Costa Rica on Friday. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

With my friend Davey taking care of today's Union coverage, I'll troll the soccer haters even more before the weekend arrives with a quick preview of a HUGE five-day stretch for your United States men's national team.

Many seemed to appreciate our quick preview of the last USA-Mexico games, and the Stars and Stripes have two big games coming up, starting tonight. Don't worry, neither one conflicts with the other kind of football. So you have no excuses.

The Americans are in the driver's seat for a berth in World Cup 2014 heading into tonight's game in Costa Rica and Tuesday's matchup with archrival Mexico in Columbus, Ohio. The U.S. sits in first place in the six-team group of teams from North/Central America and the Caribbean. Teams play the other five teams home and away over 10 matches, with the top three teams earning automatic bids to Brazil 2014. The fourth-place team must play a two-game playoff against New Zealand for the other spot.

The U.S. could clinch a bid tonight, but only if three results go their way.  More of the news about tonight's match has centered around the Costa Rican "gamesmanship" going on this week, after the "Ticos" were angered by having to get their feet a little wet during a game in Colorado in March, which was played in the snow and won by the U.S.

It was the lead on Keith Olbermann's new ESPN2 show last night, and he provides a good recap of all that's gone on this weekend.

[nbcsports_video src=//www.youtube.com/embed/7dgPV-9I4wg service=youtube width=590 height=443]

Tonight's game (10 p.m.) is available on BeIN Sport, a channel you might get but not even know it. Click here to find it on your TV, or if you want the true experience, head to Fado and watch with the American Outlaws Philadelphia chapter.

The big story tonight is where the game will be played. In the past, Costa Rica hosted all international games -- especially against the Americans -- at Estadio Saprisaa, an aging, intimidating, Vet Stadium-style-astroturfed venue where the United States never won a game.

In recent years, they've hosted most games at the shiny new Estadio Nacional, which has natural grass and a running track that keeps fans far away from the field -- well out of urine-throwing range. Once it was apparent that tonight's game would be important for Costa Rica's World Cup hopes, they even talked about moving back to Saprissa for old time's sake. But it apparently would've cost too much to get the run-down stadium up to FIFA standards.

Landon Donovan is back in the squad after a semi-self-imposed/semi-punishment hiatus away from the team. The Americans are at full-strength, and a draw or win would all but lock up a spot in the World Cup. Even more importantly, if the U.S. could lock up a bid in the next five days, they could use the final two qualifiers (home to Jamaica and at Panama) to find chemistry instead of needing results.

Once tonight's match is over, attention turns to Tuesday's showdown with a DESPERATE Mexico squad in Ohio. Unlike the Americans, the Mexicans' spot in the World Cup is very much in question.

But USA-Mexico deserves its own post. So check back Tuesday for more. And save some room in your football weekend for the other kind of football.

Bovada projects Nets, not Sixers, to finish at bottom of division, conference

Bovada projects Nets, not Sixers, to finish at bottom of division, conference

The Sixers finished in the basement of the NBA standings last season with a league-low 10 wins. But with the influx of young talent and addition of a couple veterans to the roster, the Las Vegas oddsmakers are betting on the Sixers to make some strides upward in the 2016-17 standings.  

Last week, the WestGate Superbook in Las Vegas set the Sixers' over/under for wins this season at an optimistic 27½, which was the fourth-lowest projection in the league.

Similarly, while Bovada is projecting another season of basketball filled with mostly losses in Philadelphia, the sportsbook doesn't view the Sixers as a shoo-in to finish as the league's worst team for the second consecutive year.

Per Bovada, the Sixers have the fourth-longest odds (125/1) to capture the Atlantic Divison title for the first time since 2001-02, beating out the Nets (250/1) by a considerable margin.

The favorite to win the division is the Celtics at 20/21, trailed closely by the defending division champion Raptors (21/20). The Knicks are between the Raptors and Sixers at 10/1.

The Sixers (150/1) also edged out the Nets (200/1) in odds to win the Eastern Conference championship. The two teams in the conference directly ahead of the Sixers in that futures bet are the Hornets (100/1) and Magic (50/1).

The Cavaliers are the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference at 5/11, followed by the Celtics (5/1) and Raptors (14/1).

Least surprising of all futures odds, Bovada has the Sixers tied with four other teams for the longest odds to win the NBA title. The Nuggets, Kings, Nets and Suns were tied with the Sixers at 500/1 odds to win the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy.

The early favorites to win it all are the same two teams that met in the 2016 Finals. The Warriors are alone at top with the shortest odds at 4/5 trailed by the Cavaliers at 3/1.

Pete Mackanin will push to add hitter in meeting with front-office brass Friday

Pete Mackanin will push to add hitter in meeting with front-office brass Friday

ATLANTA — The Phillies entered Tuesday night’s game against the Atlanta Braves — No. 157 of 162 — ranked last in the majors in runs scored (591) and were hanging out near the bottom in a slew of other important offensive categories.
 
The stat sheet says the Phillies need more offense.
 
So does the manager.
 
Pete Mackanin plans to make his case for adding a bat this winter — the best fit would be in the outfield — in an end-of-season meeting with the front office Friday at Citizens Bank Park.
 
“Basically, having talked to the rest of the coaching staff, we’re all pretty much in agreement with what our needs are,” Mackanin said Tuesday afternoon. “I’m anxious to hear from (general manager) Matt Klentak and from (president) Andy MacPhail and if there’s an owner there. We’d like to hear what they have to say. We’re pretty much in agreement on a lot of what we need.
 
“I, for one, think we need at least one hitter that gives you quality at-bats.”
 
There could be hurdles in adding a bat. Money is not one of them. All of the team’s big contracts will be gone when Ryan Howard rides off into the sunset on Sunday. The team that spent over a half-billion in salaries from 2012 to 2014 (and missed the playoffs each time) has plenty of money and has vowed to spend it in due time. But that time might not arrive until team leaders believe the club has built a nucleus that would benefit from the signing of a "finishing" talent or two. The team is committed to building that nucleus from within, and there lies the potential hurdle in adding the difference-making bat that Mackanin craves. Building from within requires eventually giving players from the system an opportunity to prove themselves and grow at the major-league level. The front office, still very much committed to a rebuild, will be cognizant of blocking those players (the list includes Roman Quinn, Nick Williams, Dylan Cozens and others) and their opportunities. Klentak has said as much on several occasions this year.
 
Even Mackanin acknowledged that the situation is a Catch-22.
 
“I know I don’t want to block a prospect that has a chance to be a big part of it,” he said.
 
“But at the same time, I think by having one guy in the middle of the lineup or somewhere in the lineup that can take a little pressure off (Maikel) Franco and (Odubel) Herrera and the rest of them could do wonders. You look at when (Matt) Kemp joined the Braves. They all went off. They’re all hitting. They’ve scored more runs than anybody, I think, since the All-Star break. Last year, with (Yoenis) Cespedes, he joined the Mets and all of a sudden they all started hitting.
 
“I will give those examples. I feel that’s important.”
 
A number of outfield bats will be on the free-agent market this winter. Cespedes could be there if he opts out of his contract with the Mets, but he’s not likely to be interested in joining a rebuilding team and the Phillies are unlikely to want the long-term commitment a player like that would require. Dexter Fowler and Matt Holiday could be free agents if their options for 2017 are not exercised. Ian Desmond will be out there, but the Rangers will probably look to retain him. Jose Bautista, Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss and Colby Rasmus will also be out there. Martin Prado is the type of “professional hitter” that would appeal to Mackanin, but he agreed to a three-year contract extension with the Miami Marlins on Tuesday.