Sporting Kansas City and the Chicago Fire both control their own destiny to capture the Eastern Conference, making Friday night's matchup between these streaking teams very critical.
Kansas City (16-7-7) leads the East with 55 points, and visiting Chicago (16-8-5) is second with 53 along with a game in hand. That puts the title in reach for both clubs.
"You're playing against the top in your conference, but more than anything for us, we're in a position where we feel that we can control our own destiny," Chicago coach Frank Klopas said. "And I think that's the important thing."
Kansas City is 5-0-3 since its last MLS loss, 2-1 to Columbus on July 28. The club has already lost twice to the Fire this season and knows another defeat could prove fatal.
"We really need to try to win that game to try to reach first place of the league," defender Aurelien Collin said. "It's a big game, we prepare for that game, Friday night is gonna be a big party and we know what we have to do."
Chicago is seeking its first five-game MLS win streak since Aug. 30-Sept. 15, 2000. The Fire have won seven of eight overall and been boosted by midseason acquisitions Alvaro Fernandez and Sherjill MacDonald.
"I think that those guys have come in and helped them quite a bit and put them on a roll for sure," Kansas City coach Peter Vermes said. "They're a team that's hot right now. It'll be a difficult challenge for sure."
Neither Fernandez nor MacDonald was with Chicago for the two previous meetings. The Fire rallied from a goal down for a 2-1 home win May 12 and won 1-0 at Kansas City on June 29.
Chicago is even better now, scoring at least twice in every contest of this eight-game stretch with a total of 19 goals. Midfielder Chris Rolfe has scored six times in that span.
Rolfe scored twice in a three-minute span Saturday in a 2-1 home win over Columbus.
"I just feel like there is a belief with the team," Klopas said. "I think it's a long season, and the team has been consistent."
The Fire have not allowed a goal this year to Kansas City's top scorers Kei Kamara and C.J. Sapong, who have combined for 18, but they remain wary of the duo's attacking potential.
"They're pretty athletic up front with Kamara and Sapong, and (Graham) Zusi's a dangerous player," Klopas said.
Kansas City midfielder Jacob Peterson is suspended after being sent off in Saturday's scoreless draw at Montreal.
Kansas City will clinch a playoff spot with a victory, and Vermes believes games like this will serve his team well for the postseason.
"Now teams are coming in and playing with a much different intensity in the past," he said. "What that makes for is a very entertaining game, first of all for the fans. The other part of it is that it makes everybody battle-tested and ready for if you make the playoffs."
- Kansas City