6 Key Battles to Watch in MLS Matches from October 3-5
With the calendar flipping over to October, the final push for the playoffs has begun in Major League Soccer.
Most of the focus for the next four weeks will be on the Eastern Conference, where five teams are battling for the final two spots.
The playoff picture in the East could drastically change once again in Week 30 with two massive showdowns Saturday.
Out in the Western Conference, the top four teams have been decided, but the fifth and final position is still up for grabs between two rivals.
With that in mind, our six key battles to watch will focus on the key matches that will play a major role in helping us figure out the playoff participants.
Perry Kitchen vs. Benny Feilhaber
Before we look at the two massive Saturday clashes in the East, we have to take a glance at the showdown at RFK Stadium Friday night that will feature a terrific battle in the middle of the park.
D.C. United's Perry Kitchen is one of the burgeoning stars of the United States men's national team, and he will be handed a strong task in facing off against Benny Feilhaber, who has plenty of international experience under his belt.
Feilhaber's Sporting Kansas City come into RFK Stadium in rough form, as they have lost six of their last eight matches.
All that can be washed away with a big win over the first-place team in the East, which can be achieved with an impressive game in midfield.
Both Kitchen and Feilhaber are capable of surging forward to become an extra man in attack, which is something we will surely see Friday night.
With two impressive attacks in front of them, service will be important for the two players searching for a call from United States manager Jurgen Klinsmann.
Brad Davis vs. Chris Duvall
As we all know by now, the Houston Dynamo live and die through the left foot of Brad Davis.
Heading into Saturday's match at Red Bull Arena, Davis must be licking his chops after seeing the howler of a performance that Chris Duvall put in Sunday against the Galaxy.
Duvall was out of position on numerous occasions for the Red Bulls, who can't afford another embarrassing loss with Toronto and Philadelphia on their heels in the race for fifth place in the East.
There is no doubt that the right-back will be looking to get back on track after his shocker, but facing Davis is no easy task, especially when Houston still has a small chance of making the playoffs.
If Duvall can neutralize the threat of Davis from the left wing for most of the match, New York should cruise to three points and dash the bleak playoff hopes of the Dynamo.
Ethan Finlay vs. Chris Tierney
The other major collision between two playoff contenders in the East comes to us from Gillette Stadium, where New England is looking to avenge a 1-0 loss to Columbus from two weeks ago.
Missing from that clash was a healthy Chris Tierney, who made a second-half cameo in his first game back from two months off due to injury.
With Tierney fully fit, he will square off against Ethan Finlay, who is one of the more underrated young players in the league.
Finlay's play has been as important to Columbus in recent weeks as the contributions of designated player Federico Higuain.
With the need for a second playmaker to emerge in every game from now until the end of the season, Finlay will be under pressure to open up the Revolution back four.
Tierney is an experienced defender, who may also have some extra motivation. If D.C. loses Friday night, a win would put New England within three points of first place.
Pedro Morales vs. Michel
Thanks to a big morale-boosting victory over Real Salt Lake in Week 29, Vancouver carries a ton of momentum into Saturday's home match against FC Dallas.
For the Whitecaps to keep their lead over Portland for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, Pedro Morales must shine once again in attack.
The Chilean designated player scored both goals in the 2-1 win over RSL, but he has only scored four goals since these two sides met for the first time this season on July 27.
Morales will have to prove that he can be a more consistent contributor down the stretch, but he will run into a challenge from Michel at BC Place.
Michel is the defensive fulcrum of the FC Dallas midfield, and he is also a player with the ability to start quick counters.
One thing to keep an eye on in this battle is the fresh legs Michel will carry into the match since his team hasn't played since September 24.
Chris Wondolowski vs. Liam Ridgewell
Chris Wondolowski could easily trim down the playoff hopes of the Portland Timbers Saturday night at Buck Shaw Stadium.
With the Earthquakes relegated to playing the role of spoiler, Wondolowski will look to finish off his season in style, while bringing playoff contenders down with him.
For Wondolowski to extend his terrific second-half form into the final month of the season, he will have to get the best of Liam Ridgewell.
Ridgewell was brought to Portland for this exact occasion with high stakes on the line, and he must be able to quell the threat of the United States international.
Even if Wondolowski is shut down for most of the match, he still has the capability to pop up out of nowhere and knock home a late goal, which is why Ridgewell must not take an eye off him all night.
This battle has the potential to be an enjoyable physical tussle, but the only catch is you have to wait until after 11 p.m. ET for this match to start.
Michael Bradley vs. Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas
Most people will chalk Saturday's trip to StubHub Center up as a loss for Michael Bradley and Toronto FC.
To be honest, you shouldn't think otherwise given the spectacular form that everyone in the Galaxy lineup is in.
Two of the players who have not received as much attention as they should are Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas.
The central midfield duo are responsible for shutting down counters, starting the attacking build-up and making very few mistakes.
Bradley will test the skill of the Galaxy midfield pairing, but if this game comes down to a possession battle, Juninho and Sarvas should prevail.
However, there is the slim chance that Bradley could play out of his mind and deconstruct the wall built up in the middle of the park by the Galaxy duo, which makes this battle worth watching for at least a few minutes.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.