Chicago Stumbles Before Saturday Showdown with New York (on NBC)

It had all the markings (trappings?) of a trap game: At home, against eighth-place Philadelphia—an 8-15-6 team already eliminated from playoff contention—and just three days before a big game on national television against New York, the team tied with the Fire in second place in the East.

The only pushback against all that was the fact Chicago were celebrating their 15h anniversary as a franchise, and club luminaries such as Chris ArmasCuauhtemoc Blanco, and Peter Nowak (yes, the ex-Philadelphia coach who’s currently embroiled in a lawsuit with the visiting club) would participate in a halftime ceremony.

They couldn’t screw the pooch on that occasion could they?

Yes, they could:

Sweet finishes by Jack McInerney and Gabriel Gomez, and a nifty one by Princeton alum Antoine Hoppenot on the third goal.

The loss leaves Chicago tied with New York on 53 points (with the same number of games played), but behind the Red Bulls in the goals-scored tiebreaker.

Sure, they were missing head coach Frank Klopas and left back Gonzalo Segares, both red-carded in the Fire’s last outing (a 2-0 loss to KC at Livestrong Sporting Park), but, as center back Arne Friedrich told the league website, “We forgot to defend.”

That’ll get you every time.

The Chicago–New York tilt kicks off at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC.

Federico Higuain Singlehandedly Tightening Up Eastern Conference Standings

He’s only appeared in four games for the Columbus Crew, but Argentine attacker Federico Higuain has already racked up three goals and four assists, sparking the Crew to a five-game unbeaten run that has pushed them to within two points of the fifth and final playoff spot.

There are now just eight points separating the top seven teams in the East.

On Wednesday night at Philadelphia’s PPL Park, Higuain assisted on the Crew’s first goal with a deadly free kick, then made a crucial play to help set up Eddie Gaven‘s unlikely stoppage-time gamewinner in the Crew’s 2-1 victory.

The visitors played the final 22 minutes with 10 men after Josh Williams, who scored Columbus’s first goal, was sent off for scuffling with Antoine Hoppenot in the 68th minute.

To the highlights:

On Saturday, Columbus hosts the Montreal Impact, with whom they are tied on 39 points in the East standings. (Though Columbus has three games in hand.)

Let’s Watch the Timbers Army Open Up JELD-WEN Field for 2012

The ESPN guy said this gave him “chicken skin:”

It also inspired the Portland Timbers players who, like their great fans, ignored the crummy weather conditions and went out and beat the revamped Philadelphia Union in their home opener last night, rallying from a goal down to win 3-1.

Scottish newcomer Kris Boyd scored a skillful glancing header in his debut, Kalif Alhassan had a goal and an assist, and Andrew JeanBaptiste also scored, atoning for a defensive gaffe minutes earlier that helped Philly go up 1-0. (Jean-Baptiste’s deflection of a Gabriel Gomez free kick was initially ruled an own goal.)

Apart from the weather, it was an ideal debut for Portland.

As for Philadelphia, Gomez had his moments, and Colombian striker Lionard Pajoy could be a good pickup, but Freddy Adu failed to put his mark on the game, the backline looked shaky, and 20-year-old keeper Zac MacMath did his best Chris Seitz impression, nearly tipping an early shot into his own goal, and bungling Jean-Baptiste’s header that went in for the equalizer. They’ve got some work to do.

Sans Henry, New York Gets the Job Done, Blanks Philly 1-0 to Clinch Playoffs

Needing a win or a tie to qualify for the postseason, and missing their leading scorer Thierry Henry, the Red Bulls delivered one of their best performances of the year, edging Philadelphia 1-0 in a testy, nervy game that booked their spot in the 2011 MLS Cup playoffs.

Dane Richards got the game’s only goal, in the 8th minute, heading Jan Gunnar Solli’s cross against the left post and in off the back of Union keeper Faryd Mondragon. The official ruling was an own goal, but if MLS had a Dubious Goals Panel (as the EPL amusingly dubs its committee on these things), we believe they’d give the tally to Richards. (They still could. UPDATE: And … they did. )

In any event, New York made the goal stand up, and nearly added to their lead on several occasions against a Philadelphia team gunning for first place in the Eastern Conference.

Highlights:

A number of Red Bulls produced gut-check performances, from Solli, who was Man of the Match, to holding midfielder Teemu Tainio (runner-up, in our view), Dax McCarty (bulldogging all over the place), Stephen Keel, Tim Ream, and yes…wait for it…Rafa Marquez. The Mexico captain had a few unforced errors, but mostly he was a calming presence in midfield who possessed the ball well and occasionally pulled strings to spring New York attacks.

If the real season starts with the playoffs, then New York heads into theirs on a positive note. They won’t know their wild-card opponent, or overall seeding, until this weekend’s schedule plays out. They could finish ninth or 10th depending on the remaining Week 32 results.

The wild-card round kicks off next Wednesday, Oct 26.

Philadelphia 4, New England 4: Revs Collapse Like Cartoon Soufflé

New England took a 3-0 lead on Philadelphia after 25 minutes last night at PPL Park—and a 4-1 lead into the halftime break. But as they demonstrated in coughing up a two-goal second-half advantage over New York last month, no lead is safe with the 2011 Revolution.

After the Union’s Freddy Adu scored his first MLS goal since 2007 to make it 4-2 in the 54th minute, you started to get a certain feeling….

Sure enough, Sebastien Le Toux buried a penalty in the 80th minute and then, two minutes into stoppage time, struck a fantastic equalizer to make it 4-4.

This game was a crazy-quilt of highlights and errors.

In addition to his goal, Adu completed 93% of his passes (according to Opta Sports), new Revs signing and potential Name Hall of Famer Moncef Zerka opened his MLS account with a skillful header, Benny Feilhaber and Roger Torres scored sweet goals from just outside the box, and the Revs’ defense, as ESPN commentator Adrian Healey tweeted, was bagel soft.

Beyond all that—and unfortunately not included in the highlights below—both teams created golden chances to win it deep into stoppage time, after Le Toux’s equalizer, but neither could finish.

Here’s the clip:

It was an incredible fight-back by Philly, but they are still winless in seven games, with a big one coming up on Saturday against playoff contenders Portland. New England, whose playoff hopes are all but gone, return home to host FC Dallas on Saturday night.

Hurricane Irene Forces MLS Schedule Changes

The DC United–Portland game scheduled for tomorrow evening was moved up from a 7:30 p.m. start to a 2:00 afternoon kickoff, and both of Sunday’s MLS matches, including the sold-out New York–Los Angeles match, were postponed to later dates as the league anticipated the arrival of Hurricane Irene along the Eastern seaboard.

Citing “general public safety concerns,” MLS made the following schedule changes (courtesy of MLSSoccer.com):

D.C. United vs. Portland Timbers (at RFK Stadium)
NOW: Saturday, Aug. 27 at 2:00 p.m. ET*
WAS: Saturday, Aug. 27 at 7:30 p.m. ET

*Major League Soccer, in collaboration with D.C. United and Portland Timbers, will continue to monitor the path of Hurricane Irene before making a final determination as to the status of the game between both clubs, originally scheduled for Saturday at 7:30pm ET at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.

A further update on the status of this game will be provided by 12:00 p.m. ET tomorrow (Friday).

UPDATE: This game has now been postponed. Reschedule date is TBD.

Philadelphia Union vs. New England Revolution (at PPL Park)
NOW: Wednesday, Sept. 7 at 8:00 p.m. ET (Galavisión)
WAS: Sunday, Aug. 28 at 7:00 p.m. ET (Galavisión)

New York Red Bulls vs. LA Galaxy (at Red Bull Arena)
NOW: Tuesday, Oct. 4 at 8:00 p.m. ET (ESPN2, ESPN Deportes)
WAS: Sunday, Aug. 28 at 7:00 p.m. ET (ESPN2, ESPN Deportes)