5 Key Battles for MLS Matches from September 19-21
If crunching midfielders, speedy wingers and sturdy center-backs appease you in any which way, you might enjoy our weekly look at the top battles in Major League Soccer.
With six weeks of play left in the regular season, the hunt for the final few playoff positions will intensify in a couple of places across the league, including Red Bull Arena and Crew Stadium.
In those matches, there will be key position battles to watch, including one that poses two world-class players against two stingy defenders for a first-place side.
Continue reading on for previews of that matchup between New York and Seattle, as well as four other massive battles to watch in Week 28.
Kyle Beckerman versus Dillon Powers
Friday's Rocky Mountain Cup game between Real Salt Lake and Colorado will see one of the current stars of the United States men's national team take on a bright prospect for the Red, White and Blue.
Kyle Beckerman has carried his tremendous form from Brazil into the thick of the playoff race, which sees the Claret and Cobalt in third place heading into Week 28.
The defensive midfielder will be tasked with taking on Dillon Powers, who earned the MLS Rookie of the Year award in 2013.
Powers has been one of the few bright spots during the recent Rapids tailspin, and he presents a constant threat to the opposing goal from his attacking position in midfield.
If the 23-year-old is able to feed Deshorn Brown and Edson Buddle with key passes in the attacking third, the Rapids stand a chance of pulling off a major upset.
Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill versus Chad Marshall and Zach Scott
Saturday's marquee clash at Red Bull Arena will feature an enticing aerial battle between two of the league's stars and two stingy center-backs.
Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill will look to power the New York offense to a victory against a Seattle side that might suffer a bit from a U.S. Open Cup hangover after winning the trophy over Philadelphia on Tuesday at PPL Park.
Cahill is one of the most dangerous threats in the air in the league, and the world—expect him to look to flick the ball on to Henry on a few occasions.
Chad Marshall, who had a few tasty challenges with Conor Casey Tuesday night, will look to bruise and grind with the Australian, while the always-physical Zach Scott will look to clean up the headers won by his defensive partner.
All Henry and Cahill need is a small pocket of space to create a chance, which leaves the margin of error for the Seattle center-backs at a minimum.
Fabian Castillo versus Dan Gargan
FC Dallas enters Saturday's Western Conference showdown with the LA Galaxy in need of making a statement that it can contend with the big boys of the West.
For that plan to be executed to perfection, Fabian Castillo will have to run rampant down the left wing against a Galaxy defense that has committed its fair share of mistakes in 2014.
Castillo will start against Dan Gargan, who has been one of the biggest surprises in MLS this season, in a clash of speed versus experience.
Gargan will be returning from an one-game yellow-card suspension, which will give him fresh legs to deal with the speedy Colombian.
If Gargan can keep Castillo's threat to a minimum, the Galaxy center-backs will only have to worry about shutting down Blas Perez and Tesho Akindele instead of spreading themselves thin covering on the wing.
Matias Laba versus Diego Chara
There is everything to love and nothing to hate about the battle of defensive midfielders in the Cascadia Cup match between Portland and Vancouver.
Matias Laba and Diego Chara are the two best tacklers in the league, and they are both expected to wreak havoc on the opposing attack.
These two players, who are separated by one tackle for the league lead, may not go head-to-head with each other, but their respective performances at Providence Park could go a long way in determining the victor.
Both will be handed a ton of responsibility against an electric attack, as Chara will be forced to shut down Pedro Morales, while Laba will take on Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe.
Portland has a bit more explosiveness to its attack, which means Laba, who is the league leader in tackles with 118, per the Whitecaps official website, will have more of a threat to deal with.
Cascadia Cup games usually get feisty at some point, which means both midfielders will also have to keep their composure, even if they are frustrated by the potential damage done to them by the opposition.
Columbus' Forwards versus Jose Goncalves and A.J. Soares
The one flaw in the Columbus lineup is the inexperience at the forward position, which features Adam Bedell and Aaron Schoenfeld as two of the key contributors.
Luckily for the Crew, Jairo Arrieta is getting back to full fitness in time for the playoff race, which gives the Crew more experience and skill up front.
For Gregg Berhalter's side to squeeze into one of the final two playoff positions in the Eastern Conference, the trio will have to find a way to score in every game down the stretch run.
A big test awaits them Saturday night in the form of New England's center-back combination of Jose Goncalves and A.J. Soares.
During their current five-game winning streak, the Revolution have conceded three goals and held two clean sheets. If that trend is to continue into the match at Crew Stadium, Goncalves and Soares will have to shut down whoever starts up front for the Crew.
If the center-backs are able to keep the forwards quiet, they will also minimize the attacking potential of Federico Higuain, who will be looking for someone to finish off his passes in the attacking third.
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