10 Key Battles for MLS Matches from August 22-24

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistAugust 21, 2014

10 Key Battles for MLS Matches from August 22-24

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    Entering the 24th week of play in Major League Soccer, there are quite a few storylines that are worth following. 

    From the red-hot Fabian Castillo to the always-entertaining Cascadia Cup clash between Seattle and Portland, fans should not be disappointed with the action this weekend. 

    In the nine games from Friday to Sunday, there are key battles that will take place everywhere on the pitch, but we decided to spotlight 10, a few of which come from the big game between Seattle and Portland.

    Continue reading on for a look at the 10 key battles in MLS this weekend. 

Fabian Castillo vs. Real Salt Lake's Defense

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    Fabian Castillo is on fire at the moment for FC Dallas, who are in the midst of a nine-game unbeaten run. 

    To extend that streak to 10 games, Oscar Pareja's side will need the Colombian to pick apart the Real Salt Lake back four, just like he did against San Jose last week. 

    The Claret and Cobalt possess a better back four than the Earthquakes, but Castillo can still easily exploit them with his speed. 

    Tony Beltran's play at right-back will be key for RSL to leave Toyota Stadium with a point, but so will the performances of Nat Borchers and Kyle Beckerman, who will have to clog the middle when Castillo cuts inside. 

Collen Warner and Michael Bradley vs. Jeff Larentowicz and Matt Watson

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    The midfield battle at BMO Field Saturday night could easily determine who the winner of the match between Toronto and Chicago will be. 

    Ever since joining forces with Michael Bradley in the middle of the park, Collen Warner has turned himself into a valuable part of the Toronto starting 11. 

    Warner's ability to hold up play in front of the back four allows Bradley to move forward in attack more, which has resulted in countless superb passes from the United States international.

    Chicago's midfield pairing of Jeff Larentowicz and Matt Watson may not be as attack-minded as Bradley, but they have been able to keep the Fire in games. 

    With the Jermaine Jones saga going nowhere fast, Chicago will have to rely on Larentowicz and Watson in central midfield, and they will need to prove they are a playoff-caliber duo for the team that sits three points out of the final playoff position in the Eastern Conference. 

    By showing resilience against the third-best team in the East, the Fire's midfield duo could bring some hope to a fan base that is hoping Jones eventually joins the team. 

Ignacio Piatti and Dilly Duka vs. New York's Shaky Back Four

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    The Montreal Impact have found a new identity over the last two weeks with the additions of Ignacio Piatti and Dilly Duka. 

    The pair have brought some life into a Montreal side that defeated Chicago in Week 23 and earned a win in the CONCACAF Champions League Wednesday. 

    With momentum on their side, the two new additions will look to wreak some havoc against a New York back four that has had some shaky moments this season.

    Roy Miller's return to the squad after the World Cup gave the Red Bulls a boost at center-back, which helped them dispose of the young, mistake-prone Matt Miazga from the starting 11.

    Out on the wing, Chris Duvall and Ambroise Oyongo have done a good job holding down the fort, but they are both still susceptible to slipping up on occasion. 

    When the full-backs advance in attack, Piatti and Duka will be able to find holes on the counter, which means the Red Bulls may have to sit back more than they would like to at home. 

Will Bruin and Giles Barnes vs. Michael Parkhurst and Giancarlo Gonzalez

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    The most underrated game of the weekend comes from Crew Stadium, where Columbus and Houston will face off Saturday in a battle of two contenders for playoff berths in the East. 

    Sparked by Will Bruin's three goals in his last four games, the Dynamo are starting to gain some steam heading into the time of the year that Dominic Kinnear loves the most. 

    For Bruin to put his goal total into double digits, he will have to solve the defensive riddle put together by Michael Parkhurst and Giancarlo Gonzalez, who have formed one of the better center-back combinations in the league. 

    Parkhurst and Gonzalez have plenty of experience, and they showed that in the Crew's 4-1 win over the Galaxy, where they held the threat of Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan and Gyasi Zardes to a minimum.

    The one X-factor of this matchup could be the speed of Giles Barnes, which opened up the Philadelphia defense for Houston's first goal in the 2-0 win last Friday. 

    If Barnes can draw one of the two center-backs out to the wing, Bruin will be able to cut through the box to find an open space, just like he did on the opener against the Union. 

Vancouver's Electric Wingers vs. LA's Standout Full-Backs

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    One of the best coaching decisions in 2014 was made by Bruce Arena back in June when he switched Robbie Rogers to left-back.

    Since then, Rogers, and another Arena reclamation project Dan Gargan, have turned into one of the best full-back combinations in the league. 

    In the 4-3 win over Colorado Wednesday, Rogers' presence was missed on the left flank, and his replacement Todd Dunivant didn't have the best return from injury.

    Rogers is listed as questionable by the league injury report, which could see him return to play Vancouver Saturday in a match that will see a young and hungry Whitecaps team push the envelope on the wings. 

    Regardless of who Carl Robinson puts out in the attacking trio behind Darren Mattocks in the 4-2-3-1, they will test the Galaxy full-backs, especially if Pedro Morales is manning the middle. 

    The quintet of Sebastian Fernandez, Nicolas Mezquida, Omar Salgado, Erik Hurtado and Russell Teibert could all make an appearance in a game that could drive the Galaxy back four insane, especially if they show up with the same urgency from Wednesday's shootout with Colorado. 

Erick Torres vs. Bobby Shuttleworth

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    The one-man scoring machine for Chivas USA will enter Gillette Stadium in search of his side's first goal in 366 minutes. 

    Erick Torres, who has scored 14 of the Goats' 21 goals, had a decent game against Vancouver in Week 23, but he failed to find the back of the net for the fourth straight week. 

    There is hope Saturday night for Torres in the form of New England keeper Bobby Shuttleworth, who hasn't been the most reliable of keepers in 2014. 

    The 27-year-old New England netminder has conceded 1.42 goals per game, which means there should be plenty of opportunities for Torres to put himself back into the Golden Boot race. 

    With basically nothing to play for now that his team is nine points out of the Western Conference playoff race, Torres should play looser up front to help his team reclaim a small bit of form with a victory. 

Chris Wondolowski vs. Carlos Valdes

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    While most of you will be getting pumped up for Sunday's major match in Cascadia, the match after that produces a juicy forward versus center-back clash at PPL Park. 

    As we all know by now, Chris Wondolowski has not felt any side effects of his deflating miss in Brazil, as he has four goals and three assists in his last seven games. 

    Wondolowski will face one of his toughest tests this season against Philadelphia's Carlos Valdes on a short week of rest.

    The Earthquakes played Wednesday night in Seattle, while the Union will enter the match with fresh legs after a break that started Friday. 

    Valdes has brought a ton of confidence into the Union defense since his return on August 9 against Montreal. 

    With two in-form players going up against each other for 90 minutes, there should be a few fireworks between the two players that are providing massive boosts to their respective clubs at the right time. 

Osvaldo Alonso vs. Diego Chara

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    Speaking of that massive Cascadia Cup clash in Portland, we have three key matchups in that game to watch because of the magnitude of the rivalry showdown. 

    The first major clash between the Sounders and Timbers will occur in the midfield, where two of the league's biggest bruisers will take on each other. 

    Osvaldo Alonso and Diego Chara both bring a bulldog mentality to the pitch, which could spark more than a few heated moments on the pitch at Providence Park. 

    Chara leads the league in tackles per game with five, but he is also the league leader in fouls per game with 2.9. Alonso is third in tackles with 3.5 per game, but he commits 1.5 fouls per game. 

    The tackling ability of Chara will come into play when Alonso has the ball at his feet, as he is the only player in the league with a pass success rate over 90 percent. 

Clint Dempsey vs. Diego Valeri

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    Clint Dempsey and Diego Valeri both like showing up for the big occasion, which is why we should expect to see each dynamic playmaker score at least once Sunday. 

    Valeri enters the clash with five goals in his last seven appearances, and most of those goals have been of the spectacular fashion. 

    Dempsey has not found the back of the net at the frequency Valeri has recently, but he did strike a hat-trick back on April 5 at Providence Park. 

    The United States international played 19 minutes for the Sounders Wednesday to ensure he was rested for Sunday's match.

    In his last game against Portland on July 13, Dempsey scored his ninth goal of the season and fired off five shots. 

    In the two games between the bitter rivals this season, Valeri has just two shots on goal, but one of them beat Stefan Frei. 

Obafemi Martins vs. Liam Ridgewell

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    The first two key matchups profiled for the game in Portland have plenty of strong features that make them stand out, but neither has the unpredictability of Obafemi Martins. 

    Martins is the antagonist and key cog of the Seattle attack due to his connection with Dempsey up front and his physical style of play.

    The patience of the Sounders forward will be tested Sunday by Liam Ridgewell, who has helped the Timbers back four gain some respect after some dreadful showings earlier in the season.

    The two veterans of the English Premier League are sure to get caught up in a tussle at some point in the match, but Martins is the player more likely to lose his cool.

    Martins is no stranger to the awkward sliding challenge, which on Wednesday night earned him a yellow card after he caught Victor Bernandez from behind. 

    With that always being a possibility when the Nigerian steps on the pitch, look for Ridgewell to try and get under his skin early and often. 

    Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

    All statistics obtained from MLSSoccer.com and WhoScored.com

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