The Houston Dynamo took their first step toward another MLS Cup appearance last season with a win in Chicago. They could use another victory at Toyota Park to boost their chances of returning to the playoffs this year.
Like the Dynamo, the Chicago Fire are outside of the top five in the Eastern Conference but will try to overtake Houston in the standings with a fourth straight home win Sunday.
Houston topped Chicago 2-1 in one of the first wild-card games in MLS history Oct. 31 en route to a second straight championship loss to Los Angeles. The Dynamo (10-8-6) have some work to do if they're going to make another run this year.
Houston is in sixth place in the East after losing two of its last three games, including a 5-0 drubbing in Montreal last Saturday. The Dynamo bounced back with a 2-1 victory over Panama's Arabe Unido in CONCACAF Champions League play Tuesday.
"I think they're going to have a character test against us, and it's going to be a game where they give their best effort of the year," Chicago forward Mike Magee said.
Houston will try to build on that win to keep from falling behind Chicago (10-10-4) in the East. The Fire are two points behind the Dynamo after going 4-1-1 in their last six games.
"With the league coming into its last third every game's going to be massive. This is probably the biggest game of our season so far," Houston midfielder Andrew Driver said. "We're coming off a terrible result against Montreal, but we've moved on. We've had a good week of training, and we had a good win Tuesday.
"This is one of those games you want to go and prove everyone wrong."
A 1-0 win over visiting Sporting Kansas City on Aug. 23 gave the Fire their first three-game home win streak of the season, their first shutout since June 2 and closed out a 3-1-0 month. Chicago also got its second-leading goal scorers back from injury in Patrick Nyarko (concussion) and Chris Rolfe (hamstring).
Chicago played to a 1-all draw in its most recent matchup with Houston on July 27. Magee provided the tying goal in the 63rd minute after Cam Weaver scored in the 61st. Brad Davis assisted on Weaver's tally and had a goal and assist in a 2-1 home win over Chicago on April 14.
Will Bruin had the other goal and scored twice in last year's playoff victory at Toyota Park. Including the postseason, Houston went 1-1-1 in Chicago in 2012.