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Kick Off: Patrick Nyarko
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Kick Off: Huge weekend with #NYvCHI, sellout Cascadia tilt

A season defining weekend awaits. Bring it on.

With three huge nationally televised clashes it’ll be hard to turn your head without seeing intense MLS rivalries playing out in front of packed stadiums across the nation. With playoff qualification on the line and the Cascadia Cup up for grabs, it promises to be a pulsating weekend of action. 

Headlining on Saturday, the Chicago Fire travel to New York (3:30 pm ET, NBC, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) with a home tie in the postseason on the line. Both sides are locked on 53 points after 31 games in the East, with New York in second place and Chicago in third.

Fire defender Arne Freidrich hopes Wednesday’s shock loss to the Philadelphia Union acts as a wake up call ahead of the run-in: “If we continue to play like this, we have no chance to get into the playoffs. On Saturday we have do things completely differently.”

The Red Bulls, meanwhile, have had a tumultuous week with GM Erik Solér replaced by Jérôme de Bontin and the pressure building on head coach Hans Backe. To whet your appetite, take a look at these classic moments (VIDEO) from New York-Chicago matchups in the past, in this week's Three for Thursday.

While players Austin Berry, Patrick Nyarko, Heath Pearce and Dax McCarty caught up with MLSsoccer.com to preview the huge matchup in an exclusive Google hangout with Andrew Wiebe on Thursday. Check it out here.

ExtraTime Radio was all about #NYvCHI, too, with Arlo White stopping by to chat about the huge clash. See what Arlo and the guys had to say on Saturday's game and Backe's future.

The Throw-In also previewed the intense rivalry, focusing on the polarizing effect on both two sides by one of the more controversial names in MLS history. Remember Juan Carlos Osorio?

The attention will then shift out West on Sunday. In fact, there’ll be more than 66,000 sets of eyes transfixed on Seattle vs. Portland (9 pm ET, ESPN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) with a record crowd expected at CenturyLink Field. If the Timbers produce a shock win, they grab the Cascadia Cup. Any more motivation needed for Gavin Wilkinson’s men?

In-form Portland striker Bright Dike doesn’t think so: “Any time you have a chance to beat the Seattle Sounders and take a cup away from, it’s a great opportunity.”

Here's an exclusive interview in The News Tribune with Sounders minority owner Drew Carey, who reveals just how badly he wanted the organization to have a vote on the club’s GM every four years. He wouldn’t even let a nasty injury sustained on the set of The Price is Right stand in his way. Bravo.

Meanwhile, Seattle’s Brad Evans revealed the Sounders expectations heading into the final few games of the season: “We talked a number of weeks ago and we set a couple goals for ourselves and one of those was to have that No. 2 spot in the West.

A game that’ll go a long way towards deciding the Sounders' fate is the third nationally televised game of the weekend: Saturday night's clash between Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy (9 pm ET, NBCSN, Live chat on MLSsoccer.com). RSL and LA sit above Seattle in the standings, with all three teams battling away to avoid the first-round knockout game.

LA have been rocked by the loss of defender A.J. DeLaGarza, with rookie Tommy Meyer given the daunting task of stepping in for the run in. Meyer had a rough time when covering for Omar Gonzalez at the start of the season, but he’s hoping this time out is different.

“It's a chance to improve and help the team," the rookie said. "I definitely learned a lot in those first couple games I played, made some mistakes.”

One player hoping to get the better of Meyer, RSL’s Álvaro Saborío, must keep scoring if Salt Lake are to succeed.

Elsewhere on Saturday, D.C. United take their playoff push to Toronto (1 pm ET, watch LIVE online) with a three-point cushion over Columbus, who sit just outside the postseason berths.

United midfielder Lewis Neal has helped fill the void left by captain Dwayne De Rosario’s injury, and Neal hopes his winning past can help D.C. prevail in the playoffs.

Two teams who had their faint playoff hopes extinguished over the last week, New England and Philadelphia, square off on Saturday (7 pm ET, watch LIVE online) at PPL Park.

Union midfielder Brian Carroll had a personal milestone dashed with Philly’s failure to make the playoffs. It will be the first-time in his 10-year MLS career that Carroll has failed to make the postseason.

“Well, it’s weird. And disappointing," he said. "But you have to be a professional and you have to finish out the season strong.”

 New England are unsure who’ll be their starting ‘keeper, as Matt Reis and Bobby Shuttleworth duel it out to don the gloves down by the Delaware River.

The Houston Dynamo are aiming to lengthen their unbeaten run at home to 14 league games against Montreal (Saturday 8:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online) Brad Davis is hoping to be fit, despite Dom Kinnear all but ruling him out of the match on Thursday.

“I told Dom I don’t want to be counted out just yet," Davis said, "because it has responded very well the past couple of days.”

Two teams at contrasting ends of the spectrum, San Jose and Colorado, meet at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (Saturday, 9 pm ET, watch LIVE online) The Quakes are aiming to fight off SKC for the Supporters’ Shield by racking up another win, while the Rapids are playing for pride.

Colorado ‘keeper Matt Pickens urged his teammates to stay professional to the end.

Columbus’ players will be hoping for the same return, starting with a tough home game against Sporting KC on Sunday (4 pm ET, watch LIVE online).

One of the main reasons the Crew are still in the hunt to make the playoffs, is the form of diminutive striker Jairo Arrieta, who aims to keep his burgeoning partnership with Federico Higuaín going. 

Sporting KC aren’t about to let up though, with head coach Peter Vermes eager to keep the nine-game unbeaten streak going: “We're not going to take our foot off the gas pedal.”

And FC Dallas need to keep their foot on the throttle if they're going to catch Vancouver for the final playoff spot in the West. With the Whitecaps' victory over Chivas USA midweek, Dallas are now five points back with a game in hand. That also comes against Chivas on Sunday, (7 pm ET, Galavision) with FCD hoping to emulate the performance of their nearest rivals.

With all this talk of the 2012 playoffs dominating right now, you’d be hard pressed to look ahead to next week, let alone next season. But plenty of MLS teams have already done that, with no fewer than six announcing they'll be heading to Central Florida for their preseason preparations.

Find out who the first two teams to announce that they're heading to the Sunshine State are, as they prepare early for the 2013 season. 

Over in Europe on Thursday night, Steve Cherundolo’s Hannover 96 side rallied to snatch a win against Levante. Check out how the other North Americans got on in Europa league action here.

And also check out this bizarre letter sent out by UEFA to all clubs participating in the Europa League. They want coaches and players to “talk up the competition” more. Very strange. 

One player who has flourised in Europa league in the past, and is performing extremely well in the Dutch league for AZ Alkmaar this season, is USMNT forward Jozy Altidore. Leander Schaerlaeckens takes up the story of Altidore's recent good form.

And finally, we all know Barcelona and Spain striker David Villa possesses a mean volley, but a strike strong enough to trash a police car? That’s something else. Watch this banned ad for the 2010 version of video game Need for Speed, which Barça officials didn’t want anyone to see. Too late.  

MLSsoccer.com Musts

WATCH: FIFA 13, Soccer 101 with the Portland Timbers

ExtraTime Radio: Arlo White on #NYvCHI

#NYvCHI Google Hangout with New York and Chicago stars

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