Kansas City, KS – Separated by just a single point in the Eastern Conference standings, Sporting Kansas City and the Philadelphia Union meet at Livestrong Sporting Park on Friday with major playoff implications.
The Columbus Crew occupy the top spot in the Eastern Conference with 41 points, followed closely by Sporting in second place with 40 points and the Union and Houston Dynamo in third with 39 points each.
With just six points between the top six teams in the East, the postseason picture is wide open. Three points for either team in Friday's clash would see them move into first place for at least a day, as the rest of Major League Soccer returns to action on Saturday.
Philadelphia is coming off of a crucial 1-0 home win over Columbus that not only saw the Union close the gap on the Eastern Conference leaders, but also saw their eight-game winless skid come to an end.
"It was a tough two months without a win," said Union boss Peter Nowak. "I think we broke the curse. We've been waiting a long time for this."
The Union are getting contributions on both sides of the ball. Rookie goalkeeper Zac MacMath has recorded back-to-back shutouts as he relieves the injured Faryd Mondragon, and Sebastien Le Toux has scored six goals in his last six games.
Sporting, meanwhile, fell 1-0 at Real Salt Lake in its last outing, just its third loss in MLS league play since May.
Even with the defeat, Sporting head coach Peter Vermes believes that his side played well enough against Real Salt Lake to claim a share of the points.
"We were very good in the run of play," Vermes said. "I walk away thinking we played very well [Saturday] and could have walked away with something more than zero points."
The loss also marked the first time that Sporting was shutout since June 22, scoring a goal in 14 consecutive matches since.
A large part of Kansas City's resurgence has been its home form. In an MLS- record nine-game homestand, Sporting posted a 5-2-2 record.
But despite making Livestrong Sporting Park a fortress, Teal Bunbury knows that if Sporting wants to make its debut season at the new stadium a success, it will need to win games on the road sooner or later.
"Obviously the home games were great for us with the atmosphere, but we have to play these games away against good opponents when it comes time for the playoffs," said Bunbury.