10 Key Battles for MLS Matches from October 16-19

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistOctober 16, 2014

10 Key Battles for MLS Matches from October 16-19

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    With two weeks remaining in the Major League Soccer regular season, there are only a few things left to settle in regard to the playoffs. 

    One of them is who will win the Supporters' Shield and the top seed in the Western Conference, which will be determined by a home-and-home series between the Seattle Sounders and the LA Galaxy. 

    Besides positioning, only the final spot in each conference remains up for grabs, which is why we decided to take a close look at two battles in a match involving one of those teams, as well as the Seattle-LA clash. 

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

Lee Nguyen vs. Ricardo Clark

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    The MLS weekend begins early in Week 32 with a Thursday clash at BBVA Compass Stadium between Houston and New England. 

    Houston is out of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference and is in the process of looking for a new manager after Dominic Kinnear announced his planned offseason move to San Jose. 

    With pride being the only thing left to play for, the Dynamo will be expected to come out of the gates flat, but one player who can stop that from happening is Ricardo Clark. 

    Clark is the midfield enforcer for Houston, and if he can hold off the early attacking threat from Lee Nguyen, he could give the Dynamo hope to earn three points. 

    Nguyen may be handed extra pressure to perform, depending on the status of Jermaine Jones, who played 90 minutes for the United States Tuesday night against Honduras. 

    Regardless of whether Jones plays, Houston's key to shutting down any attack from the Revolution is Clark.

Diego Valeri vs. Kyle Beckerman

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    The Portland Timbers are still alive in the Western Conference, but a loss to Real Salt Lake Friday would all but seal their fate with Vancouver playing San Jose the next day.

    Just like they have all season, Portland will have to rely on Diego Valeri to be the main playmaker in attack. 

    Valeri's finesse and speed will go up against the tenacity of Kyle Beckerman at Providence Park in what should prove to be an excellent clash of two of the league's stars. 

    Since the month of September began, Valeri has played a role in nine of Portland's 15 goals with three goals and six assists. 

    The reliance on Valeri may come back to bite the Timbers if Beckerman is able to clog up the passing lanes in the middle of the pitch.

    If Valeri's influence on the game is taken away, Caleb Porter's side will have to look elsewhere for key passes.

Fanendo Adi vs. Nat Borchers

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    Further up the pitch in Friday's match, Fanendo Adi will go head-to-head with Nat Borchers in a bruising battle in the box. 

    Adi has played well for the Timbers since arriving during the summer, but he will face a physical challenge from the bearded center-back. 

    The first time the lanky Nigerian forward played the Claret and Cobalt, he scored a brace in his fifth career MLS match. 

    This time around, Borchers will carry more information about the forward into the match, which could level the playing field in this matchup. 

    Borchers will be in Adi's face during every aerial battle, and he will give him very little space to operate in the final third. 

    For Adi to be successful, he must use some cunning runs to fight off the physical nature of Borchers.

Marco Di Vaio vs. Steven Caldwell

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    Fresh off a two-goal performance against New England, Marco Di Vaio will look to extend his scoring run against Toronto.

    Di Vaio, who will retire at the end of the season, has only scored eight goals in 2014 for the worst team in the East, but it looks like he is preparing to go out with a bang.

    Steven Caldwell may be able to help the Italian forward with that since the Toronto center-back hasn't had the best season. 

    Caldwell, and the entire Toronto defense, have been at fault for some dubious errors this season, which gives any opponent hope in scoring at least a few goals against them.

    With morale down in the Reds' locker room after failing to capitalize on two golden opportunities to earn a playoff berth last week, expect the entire team to come out a bit flat Saturday at BMO Field.

Fabian Castillo vs. Colorado's Full-Backs

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    The worst team on form in the league is Colorado, who play host to FC Dallas Saturday afternoon. 

    Part of the reason why the Rapids have looked terrible during their 12-game winless streak is the poor play out of the back four.

    As the Rapids look to finish off their home schedule with a positive performance, the spotlight will be on how Colorado's full-backs handle the speed of Fabian Castillo.

    Castillo is expected to run around the Rapids defense all day due to his pace and ball control, but there is a slight chance that the Rapids will be able to disrupt the Colombian on the left wing. 

    As we have learned throughout the season, the width of Castillo allows FC Dallas to open up the attack in order for Blas Perez and Tesho Akindele to finish off chances in front of net. 

    If Castillo gets going early on the wing, it could end up being yet another long day at the office for the Colorado back four.

Graham Zusi vs. Ray Gaddis

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    Saturday night's match at PPL Park will feature two sides headed in opposite directions.

    Graham Zusi and Sporting Kansas City are in the playoffs once again, and they will be searching to repeat as MLS Cup champion. 

    On the other hand, Ray Gaddis and the Philadelphia Union are out of the playoff race after a brutal 3-2 defeat to Columbus on their home turf in Week 31. 

    While many players in his situation would pack it in and not give 100 percent in a game like this, Gaddis is a true professional, and he should be ready to go for 90 minutes lined up across from Zusi. 

    Gaddis has been Philadelphia's best defender this season, while Zusi's presence on the wing provides balance to the Sporting KC attack. 

    For some reason, the Union have played some of their best soccer this season against Sporting KC, as they have earned a draw and a win at Sporting Park.

    With that in play as well, expect Zusi to struggle a bit with Gaddis, which is something that could help Philadelphia spring the upset.

Chris Wondolowski and Tommy Thompson vs. Johnny Leveron

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    The Western Conference version of the match at PPL Park will take place in San Jose, as the Earthquakes host Vancouver. 

    San Jose has not lived up to expectations this season, but there is promise for the future with Chris Wondolowski and Tommy Thompson in attack.

    Wondolowski has proved this season that he can score regardless of his side's record, while Thompson has burst onto the scene to bring life to the Earthquakes at the No. 10 position. 

    Standing in front of them Saturday night will be Johnny Leveron, who will replace the suspended Kendall Waston. 

    Leveron has been on the bench recently because of the towering Costa Rican, but now he will get a chance to shine for Carl Robinson's side with two games in the regular season.

    With Vancouver in need of a win to stay ahead of Portland for fifth place in the Western Conference, Leveron must shut down Wondolowski and Thompson in order to prevent a ton of drama heading into the final weekend of the season. 

Federico Higuain vs. Jamison Olave and Ibrahim Sekagya

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    Ten days after Columbus and New York meet at Red Bull Arena, the two sides could easily be playing each other to stay alive in the playoffs. 

    With that in mind, players on both teams will use Sunday afternoon's match as preparation for the knockout round just in case they see each other again. 

    The fresh legs of Federico Higuain, who missed the win over Philadelphia due to yellow-card accumulation, should cause problems for the New York center-back pairing of Jamison Olave and Ibrahim Sekagya. 

    With Higuain having a week to rest before the final stretch of the season, he should have no problem providing his teammates with key passes in the attacking third for the entire match.

    It will be up to Olave and Sekagya to deny the entrance of those passes into the box or out on the wing in order to contain the Crew attack.

Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas vs. Osvaldo Alonso and Gonzalo Pineda

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    Now it's time to focus on the match everyone is already talking about in Week 32. 

    Seattle and LA will face off at StubHub Center in a clash that will help decide the Supporters' Shield and Western Conference titles. 

    While all the big names will line up in attack for both sides, the game could easily come down to the battle in the middle of the park. 

    Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas are the unsung heroes of the Galaxy starting 11, but they will face their toughest task of the season Sunday against Osvaldo Alonso and Gonzalo Pineda. 

    Alonso is the midfield bulldog for the Sounders, but he is also good at holding possession in midfield to start up the attack. 

    It just so happens that Juninho and Sarvas are extremely good at those two things as well. 

    Add in a healthy Gonzalo Pineda and you have the makings of what could be a fantastic midfield matchup between the two best sides in the league.

Lamar Neagle vs. Robbie Rogers

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    Another battle that will help decide the result of Sunday night's match is the one on the right wing between Seattle's Lamar Neagle and LA's Robbie Rogers. 

    Neagle has been on a tear recently with three goals and four assists in his last seven matches, while Rogers has been one of the most consistent defenders in MLS this season. 

    The one factor to watch in this matchup is the health of Rogers, who returned to full training this week after battling a hamstring injury, per LAGalaxy.com. 

    Even if Rogers is not 100 percent fit, he will still wreak havoc on the game of Neagle, who is relied on as a playmaker on the wing to set up Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. 

    If Rogers can hold Neagle's threat to a minimum, like Vancouver did in Week 31, the Galaxy stand a good chance of winning the match. 

    Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

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