5 Key Battles for MLS Week 21

John D. Halloran@JohnDHalloranContributor IIJuly 24, 2014

5 Key Battles for MLS Week 21

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Major League Soccer's Week 21 should be an exciting one for fans with eight games spread over six days of action. On Wednesday night, the San Jose Earthquakes drew first blood, beating up on the Chicago Fire 5-1.

    The rest of MLS Week 21 action will be spread over a game on Thursday night, a game on Friday night, two matches each on Saturday and Sunday and culminating in a great Western Conference battle on Monday night.

    Here are five of the key games and the battles to watch in each match.

Portland Timbers vs. Montreal Impact

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Portland Timbers have been struggling all season, but their dramatic, come-from-behind victory last week against the Colorado Rapids put them back in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.

    If last week's win is going to serve as a turning point in the Timbers' season, they have the perfect opportunity on Sunday to keep things rolling with a trip to lowly Montreal—who only has 14 points from 18 games so far this season.

    To beat the Impact on the road, the Timbers' defense will have to keep close track of Montreal strikers Jack McInerney and Marco Di Vaio.

New England Revolution vs. Columbus Crew

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The New England Revolution have lost their last seven straight matches, in a streak that goes back to May. Surprisingly, because of their success early in the season, they are still in the playoff picture.

    After their drubbing at the hands of the LA Galaxy last week, Rev youngsters Patrick Mullins, Diego Fagundez and Kelyn Rowe were benched for their last game against FC Dallas.  However, their replacements didn't fare much better and the team still lost 2-0.

    For their part, the Columbus Crew are also struggling, having won only once in their last eight matches—although they have managed to pick up seven points over that period with their one win and four ties.

    The Crew and the Revolution are tied on points in the Eastern Conference and Saturday's game in New England could prove very important by the end of the season in a tight battle for Eastern Conference playoff spots.

Sporting KC vs. Toronto FC

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Things couldn't be going much better right now for Sporting Kansas City. Two weeks ago, they overcame a bad red-card decision to beat the Columbus Crew on the road. Then last week, they re-signed stars Graham Zusi and Matt Besler to long-term deals. Benny Feilhaber has been playing fantastic as of late and the team hasn't lost since May.

    For their part, Toronto FC hasn't been doing poorly, but four ties in their last six matches—including one last week in which Michael Bradley missed a penalty—have left them unable to put any distance between themselves and the rest of the pack in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

    Toronto has the advantage of playing at home, but will have to deal with Dom Dwyer, Zusi and Feilhaber if they hope to win. Sporting, on the other hand, will need to keep Jermaine Defoe in check. It should be a great matchup.

Colorado Rapids vs. Chivas USA

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Despite the fact that they've been the laughingstock of MLS for the better part of two years, Chivas USA is still in the playoff picture for 2014. They currently sit in eighth place in the Western Conference, but are only four points off the pace with 15 games to go. Their attack this season has been led by Erick "Cubo" Torres, who is tied for second in the league with 14 goals, a man Colorado's defense will need to keep close track of.

    The Rapids sit in fifth place in the Western Conference, holding the last playoff spot at the moment. They're a tough team to beat having lost only twice in their last eight games, but a win at home on Friday night against Chivas could help them put some distance between themselves and the rest of the pack in the West.

    Colorado is also a fun team to watch because of their exciting youngsters, which includes the dynamic attacking combination of Dillon Serna, Dillon Powers and Deshorn Brown and promising young defenders Shane O'Neill and Chris Klute.

Seattle Sounders vs. LA Galaxy

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    MLS fans will have to wait until Monday night to see the most exciting match of Week 21, when the LA Galaxy travel to Seattle to take on the Sounders.

    Seattle's attack is led by Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and Lamar Neagle and their defense is led by Chad Marshall, DeAndre Yedlin and holding midfielder Osvaldo Alonso.

    The Galaxy have only lost once in their last nine games and have an attack led by Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes—who have 16 goals between them in 2014—but Seattle's CenturyLink field is also one of the most intimidating environments in MLS to play.

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