10 Key Battles for MLS Week 23

John D. Halloran@JohnDHalloranContributor IIJuly 31, 2014

10 Key Battles for MLS Week 23

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    Major League Soccer's Week 23 will feature a full schedule of nine weekend matchups, many of which have serious playoff implications on the line as the league heads into the final third of the season.

    Starting on Friday night when Sporting Kansas City hosts the Philadelphia Union, and finishing up with FC Dallas' trip to Chivas USA on Sunday night, there will be plenty of action.

    Here are 10 key battles for MLS Week 23.

Can Philadelphia Stop Sporting?

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    Sporting KC haven't lost in seven games and, even more remarkable considering MLS' parity, have won six of those matches. They are currently the best in the league and are in the driver's seat to not only win the Supporters' Shield, but win the MLS Cup again.

    On Friday, they host the Philadelphia Union, who are on a nice little streak of their own, having picked up points in six of their last seven matches. With the Union currently out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, something will have to give.

The Momentum Matchup

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    MLS' first matchup on Saturday afternoon will feature a titanic Western Conference battle as the LA Galaxy host the Portland Timbers.

    The Galaxy have only lost once since mid-May, and that was a narrow 2-1 loss to Sporting on the road. They are also coming off a huge 3-0 road win over the Seattle Sounders on Monday night.

    The Timbers, for their part, have started to overcome a disastrous opening to their season with two big wins in a row. Out of the playoff picture in the West for now, they desperately need to continue picking up points.

    And both teams feature some of the most dynamic attacking players in the league. It should be a great game.

The Slump-Buster

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    Toronto FC have make a remarkable turnaround in 2014 but still haven't proved they're ready for the big time. Back-to-back losses to the Eastern Conference's No. 1 and No. 2 teams have seen Toronto drop into fourth place.

    Fortunately, there will be no easier way to pick up points than their Saturday game at lowly Montreal. The Impact only have 14 points in 2014, and Michael Bradley and company should be able to use the game to get Toronto back on track.

The Battle in the Northeast

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    Prior to their win on Wednesday night against the Colorado Rapids, the New England Revolution had lost eight straight. Somehow, they've managed to not only stay in the playoff picture, but they currently sit in third place in the Eastern Conference.

    Whether or not the Rev's win over the Rapids was an anomaly, the New York Red Bulls and their dynamic attacking duo of Bradley Wright-Phillips and Thierry Henry will be a challenge. 

    The Red Bulls are currently in sixth place, but a win on Saturday could vault them into third.

To Tie or Not to Tie?

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    The MLS record for ties in a single season is 16, but the Chicago Fire may be setting a new standard this season. They already have 12, including a 0-0 draw to Vancouver on Wednesday night.

    The Columbus Crew will travel to Chicago for their matchup on Saturday night for what could be a rather listless game. Both teams have had trouble finding an offensive spark this season.

Can the Rapids' Youngsters Break RSL's Defense?

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    Between Nick Rimando, Chris Schuler, Nat Borchers and Kyle Beckerman, the spine of Real Salt Lake's defense is as good as it gets in MLS.

    The Colorado Rapids, coming off their 3-0 loss to New England on Wednesday, will be eager to get back on track and feature some of the most exciting young attackers in the league with Dillon Powers, Dillon Serna and DeShorn Brown (if healthy).

    With only six points separating second place from seventh in the West, both teams will be eager to pick up points and separate themselves from the pack heading into the final stage of the season.

From Best to Worst

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    The nightcap for MLS on Saturday night will be a matchup between Western Conference leaders Seattle and Western Conference bottom-dwellers San Jose.

    The Sounders are coming off an embarrassing 3-0 home loss to the Galaxy and will want to redeem themselves. The Earthquakes, for their part, are all but out of the playoff race and desperately need a win to keep any hope alive.

Can the Dynamo Make a Late Run?

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    For the past few years, the Houston Dynamo have been one of the most consistent—and best—teams in Major League Soccer. But 2014 has not been kind to them as they currently sit in ninth place in the East. 

    On Sunday night things won't get any easier as they host red-hot D.C. United. United is coming off four straight wins, including a 3-0 thrashing of Toronto FC on Wednesday night. United are also only one point behind Sporting KC and Seattle in the Supporters' Shield race and will be eager for a result themselves.

Chivas USA vs. FC Dallas

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    Shockingly enough, considering their numerous on- and off-field problems over the past 18 months, Chivas USA are still alive in the Western Conference playoff race. That being said, things won't be easy as they are still seven points off the pace heading into the final third of the season.

    FC Dallas have 30 points and right now are holding onto the last playoff spot in the West. To beat Chivas, they'll need to contain Erick Torres—one of the hottest strikers in the league.

Heading into the All-Star Break

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    This weekend's games will be the final matches for MLS teams heading into the league's All-Star break. 

    Next Wednesday, the league's All-Stars will take on German champions Bayern Munich and their young American star Julian Green.

    The All-Star game signals both the end of summer and the final phase of the 2014 season for MLS teams. With the playoff races in both the East and West so tight, it should be an exciting finish to watch.