10 Key Battles for MLS Matches from August 29-31
Major League Soccer is coming off a week in which most of the star attackers in the league found themselves in the spotlight.
That trend could continue into this weekend thanks to plenty of favorable matchups, but the respective hot streaks of the stars could also be halted by some surprising defensive play.
Outside of the scoring threats, there are also a few midfield battles that could shape a few results across the league.
Continue reading on for a look at the 10 key battles that will shape the latest weekend of play in MLS.
Dom Dwyer vs. David Horst
Dom Dwyer and David Horst both had nights to forget last week, and for each player to get back in stride, they will have to star in an Eastern Conference clash Friday night.
Dwyer, who has 16 goals in 2014, has only scored twice in his last seven matches. Both of those goals came from the spot against Toronto.
With a vulnerable Houston defense entering the raucous Sporting Park, Friday could be the perfect time for Dwyer to break his dry spell from open play.
Horst has been all over the place this year at center-back for the Dynamo, as he has turned in some strong showings and some awful ones as well.
The offseason acquisition from Portland could have prevented two Columbus goals last week, but instead he was at fault and his confidence is far from high because of that.
Look for Dwyer to challenge the physical Horst early and often to force the defender into compromising scenarios.
Seattle's on-Fire Forwards vs. Colorado's Depleted Defense
The biggest mismatch of the weekend comes to us from the clash between the Sounders and Rapids.
Entering the match at CenturyLink Field, Colorado is without Drew Moor and Shane O'Neill for the season at center-back, which means a makeshift central defense will show up for Pablo Mastroeni's club for the rest of the season.
In the 4-3 loss to LA last Wednesday, Mastroeni selected Marvell Wynne and Jared Watts to start at center-back.
If that pairing conceded four goals to the potent Galaxy attack, just imagine what damage Seattle can do at home.
Lee Nguyen vs. Michael Bradley
Although it is a possibility that Jermaine Jones plays for New England against Toronto, it is doubtful that he will have an actual impact on the match.
With Jones still getting back to full fitness, Lee Nguyen will be relied on to be the fulcrum of the Revolution midfield, like he has been all season.
Nguyen does not play the same position in midfield than Jones, but he does possess the same game-changing ability in attack.
If the Revolution are to create chances against the Reds, Nguyen should be involved in the build-up.
Michael Bradley, who plays in a deeper role in midfield than Nguyen, is as valuable in attack as his New England counterpart.
By distributing the ball across the pitch, Bradley hands Toronto a valuable weapon that could easily exploit the weak New England back four.
However, that all changes if Jones is handed the start in defensive midfield.
Justin Meram vs. Hassoun Camara
Not many things can slow down Justin Meram and the Columbus Crew right now, and not many people are expecting Montreal to do much to stop them.
One player that can disrupt the rhythm Columbus is in is Impact right-back Hassoun Camara, who will not let Meram pass with ease on the left wing.
Meram has been one of the many underrated Crew players stepping into the spotlight in order to give his team a fighting chance in the playoff race, but Camara can stop him with his physicality.
Camara, who has picked up eight yellow cards in 2014, isn't the most disciplined player in the league, but he can throw a wrench in a fluid attack with some timely fouls.
Look for Meram to take advantage of Camara's fouling to set up a few set pieces, and to put the Montreal defender on edge early.
Quincy Amarikwa vs. Matt Hedges
FC Dallas enters Toyota Park as the hottest team in the league with a 10-game unbeaten run, but they will be without Michel and Blas Perez due to suspension.
With two key cogs in the machine out for the match against struggling Chicago, Matt Hedges will be called upon to provide stability at the back, just like he has for most of the season.
The young United States men's national team prospect will have to contain the attacking threat of Quincy Amarikwa to keep the FC Dallas streak going.
Amarikwa is the most dangerous playmaker in the Fire side at the moment, and he will have to find space around the center-back to open up some chances in the box for his teammates.
Not only can Amarikwa score goals up front, but he is more than willing to share with an open teammate in the box as well, which is something Hedges must keep an eye on to avoid an upset.
Kendall Waston vs. Portland's Forwards
Kendall Waston is a large man at 6'5" and he could be occupying the Vancouver back line Saturday at BC Place.
With Johnny Leveron suspended, Waston could step in at center-back against the Timbers, per Michael McColl of MLSSoccer.com.
If the Costa Rican does enter into the Vancouver starting 11, he could cause a ton of problems to the small Portland attack.
Aside from Fanendo Adi, the Timbers don't carry much height with them in attack, which could either be a major benefit or downfall against Waston.
The speed on the pitch coming from the likes of Darlington Nagbe, Maximiliano Urruti and others could possess a challenge for the large Whitecaps defender, who will be facing a Timbers side that has scored five goals in their last three matches.
Liam Ridgewell vs. Pedro Morales
On the other side of the pitch of the Cascadia Cup battle, Vancouver midfield maestro Pedro Morales will look to find a way past Liam Ridgewell, who has brought a bit of consistency to the Portland defense.
Ridgewell and the Portland back four conceded on four occasions against Seattle, who tore apart the progress that the Timbers made against New England and Chivas USA.
Morales and the Whitecaps come back home after 180 minutes of scoreless play at StubHub Center against LA and Chivas USA.
Something has to give in this showdown between two of the top newcomers in the league, and given Vancouver's home form and playoff urgency, look for Morales to be a bit more motivated than Ridgewell in this clash.
Chris Wondolowski vs. Joao Plata
Watching two in-form scorers play on the same pitch is something you should not miss, especially given how well Chris Wondolowski and Joao Plata have done in front of net recently.
Despite playing on a team with a dreadful defense, Wondolowski has continued to attempt to will the Earthquakes to results.
Wondolowski has benefited from the change in formation to a 4-4-1-1 by manager Mark Watson with five goals in his last eight games.
During that span, Wondolowski has had three different players behind him, and he has been able to combine with all three of them to create chances.
In the same stretch where Wondolowski has netted five goals, Plata has found the back of the net on four occasions for a Real Salt Lake side that should take all three points away from Buck Shaw Stadium.
The crafty movement of the Ecuadorian could cause plenty of trouble to the San Jose defense, which had a ton of difficulty dealing with the speedy Fabian Castillo two weeks ago.
Perry Kitchen vs. Tim Cahill
The match with the most ramifications in the East this week will take place at RFK Stadium Sunday, when D.C. United hosts New York.
The rivalry clash will feature plenty of star forwards, but the game will come down to who controls the pace of the game in midfield.
Perry Kitchen has been one of the best midfielders in the league this season, but his form will be tested against a wily veteran in Tim Cahill.
Cahill is one of the most versatile players in the league, as he can drop back in midfield to earn possession and march forward into the box to wreak havoc on opposing defenses.
Kitchen must keep an eye on Cahill for every second he is on the pitch, and if he contains the threat of the Australian, it will let the back four focus on shutting down Bradley Wright-Phillips and Thierry Henry.
Bobby Boswell and Steve Birnbaum vs. Bradley Wright-Phillips and Thierry Henry
Speaking of the dynamic duo of Wright-Phillips and Henry, they will be going up against D.C.'s strong center-back pairing of Bobby Boswell and Steve Birnbaum.
Both sets of players possess a veteran that has made the other player look better throughout the course of the season.
Boswell has taken Birnbaum under his wing, and the league veteran has helped turn the rookie into a solid defender in place of the injured Jeff Parke.
With every beautiful pass he makes to the feet of the Golden Boot leader, Henry proves to us that he is still a world-class talent despite the growing retirement talk.
Containing Henry and Wright-Phillips will be far from an easy task, but the D.C. center-back duo need to make a statement after getting trounced by LA Wednesday night.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.
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