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.

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard batting cleanup, Cameron Rupp catching

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard batting cleanup, Cameron Rupp catching

Following a day off, the Phillies continue their roadtrip with the start of a three-game set with the New York Mets.

Ryan Howard will bat in the heart of the Phillies order with Cameron Rupp at catcher following the trade of Carlos Ruiz to the Dodgers. Meanwhile, the rest of the lineup remains mostly the same as it was prior to a brief two-game series with American League rules.

With Ruiz's trade, Howard is the last remaining member of the Phillies' 2008 World Series team. He'll try to throw back to that time against the ageless Bartolo Colon. 

Howard has good power numbers against Colon. He has just six hits in 28 at-bats, but has drawn three walks and has three home runs against the 43-year-old starter. There are only 18 pitchers he has faced more often than Colon.

At catcher, Rupp had already inherited the starting job from Ruiz, but he is now the backstop with more experience in Philadelphia. The Phillies called up prospect Jorge Alfaro for now, but he will likely remain on the bench and be sent down when A.J. Ellis reports this weekend. 

Rupp has five hits in 14 at-bats against Colon. He has faced only the Braves' Julio Teheran more times than Colon in his four-year career. The five hits are tied for his most against any one pitcher (Teheran).

Here's the full lineup that will oppose Colon and the Mets. 

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Aaron Altherr, LF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Odubel Herrera, CF
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Peter Bourjos, RF
9. Adam Morgan, P

Awwwwe: Chooch leaves his Phillies teammates a love note on clubhouse white board

Awwwwe: Chooch leaves his Phillies teammates a love note on clubhouse white board

As if you didn't think you could love Carlos Ruiz any more...

Chooch was traded on Thursday afternoon and he's since departed for the potentially playoff-bound pastures with his new-again teammate Chase Utley and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

But not before he left his Phillies teammates a loving note written on the white board in the clubhouse at CitiField where the Phils play the Mets this evening.

Courtesy of CSNPhilly.com's Phillies beat reporter Jim Salisbury:

It reads:

"I will miss all of you guys. Good luck the rest of the season. Love you all, Chooch! (Gracias)"

Awwwwwwwwe.

Gestures like the above help explain why guys like Roy Halladay call Chooch their favorite baseball player ever.

NHL Notes: Brandon Pirri, Rangers agree to terms on one-year deal

NHL Notes: Brandon Pirri, Rangers agree to terms on one-year deal

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers have agreed to terms with forward Brandon Pirri on a $1.1 million, one-year deal.

The 25-year-old Pirri spent last season with the Florida Panthers and Anaheim Ducks, recording 14 goals and 15 assists in 61 games. His 29 points were a career high.

A second-round pick, 59th overall, in the 2009 draft, Pirri has been traded twice and was considered a potential bargain in NHL free agency. Pirri is something of a shootout specialist, scoring on five of his six attempts last season, and that 83.3 percent success rate ranked first among players with at least five attempts.

In 166 NHL games with the Chicago Blackhawks, Panthers and Ducks, Pirri has 49 goals and 31 assists for 90 points.

Enroth replaces injured Lerner for Sweden at World Cup
NEW YORK -- With goaltender Robin Lehner still not fully healthy, Sweden replaced him on its World Cup of Hockey roster with Jhonas Enroth.

The Buffalo Sabres' starting goalie was bothered by a right ankle injury for much of last season that limited him to 21 NHL games. Lehner underwent surgery in March and had been working to get ready for the World Cup, which begins Sept. 17 in Toronto.

"We really wanted to give Robin the opportunity to recover from his injury from last year, but unfortunately it wasn't enough time for him to feel 100 percent recovered," coach Rikard Gronborg said in a statement released by the Swedish Ice Hockey Association.

Concussion problems held Lehner to 23 games in 2014-15, and he looked to be over those after the Ottawa Senators traded him to Buffalo at the 2015 draft. The 25-year-old injured his ankle early in the season opener and aggravated it in March.

It was not immediately clear when the Sabres expect Lehner to be back to 100 percent.

"As Robin continues to progress during the offseason in his rehab from last season's ankle injury, he felt that it was best to withdraw from Team Sweden for the upcoming World Cup," Buffalo general manager Tim Murray said in a statement. "Robin felt it was important to continue his rehab in Buffalo to prepare for training camp. He has been working out both on and off the ice and we look forward to seeing him on the ice with our team next month."

Enroth, who spent last season with the Los Angeles Kings, recently signed a one-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He joins Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Jacob Markstrom of the Vancouver Canucks as the goalies on Sweden's roster.

The 28-year-old has a 2.80 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in 147 career NHL games. Enroth was on the Swedish team that earned a silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, though he never appeared in a game. He started for Sweden at the 2013 and 2015 world hockey championships, winning gold in 2013 with a 1.15 GAA and .956 save percentage (see full story).