Sporting Kansas City has picked up where it left off last year, currently leading the Eastern Conference after winning the MLS Cup. Two key pieces to that success, though, are about to be removed.
In its final game before Graham Zusi and Matt Besler begin training with the United States national team, Sporting KC goes for a third consecutive victory Wednesday night when it hosts the woeful Philadelphia Union.
The Union won 1-0 on Sept. 27 on Conor Casey's goal when these clubs last met at Sporting Park, though a similar result Wednesday seems unlikely.
Since that game, Philadelphia is 0-5-3 on the road as Sporting KC has gone 7-0-4 at home and outscored opponents 16-4, including CONCACAF Champions League play. While the Union (1-5-5) have lost three straight as part of an 0-5-4 slide, Kansas City (5-2-2) has won its two games in May by a combined 5-0 and is 5-1-1 in its last seven.
That run has the club tied with New England atop the East, but the Revolution have played one more game.
Plus, Sporting surely would like to give a good send-off to Besler and Zusi, who head to Stanford on Thursday to join the U.S. team after making the preliminary 30-man roster for the World Cup. Both have plenty of international experience and should make the final roster, meaning they will miss at least six of Kansas City's games.
Zusi credited the rise of Sporting KC for his being named to the U.S. squad at Monday's press conference.
"We're here right now because of our club, it's as simple as that," Zusi said. "... . All credit is to what this club has done as a whole, that's when the individual talent starts getting recognized as well."
A two-time All-Star like Zusi, Besler echoed his longtime teammate's sentiment.
"We've evolved the last couple of years as one of the best teams in the league. Me and Graham probably wouldn't be sitting up here if that didn't happen," the 2012 MLS defender of the year said.
As two important Kansas City players are set to depart, one appears ready to return. Midfielder Sal Zizzo, who has six starts, has been cleared after missing two matches with a strained groin.
Maurice Edu is the only Philadelphia player to make the U.S. roster. He's tied for the team lead with two goals, and his departure will further hurt a Union club held to one goal over the last four matches.
Philadelphia hasn't won since beating New England on March 15.
"We need to just continue to stay strong as a group and keep our heads high, keep believing in what we're doing," Edu told the team's official website. "We believe in ourselves."
The Union are looking to avoid matching the longest single-season losing streak in franchise history, a four-game skid in 2010.
"This is when your character needs to come out with extra effort and your level needs to be there," captain Brian Carroll said after Saturday's 1-0 loss to D.C. "... Whatever event needs to occur for us to get a win and get back on the right track, we need to find it."
Sporting Kansas City has won all four matches between these clubs since July 2012 other than that September loss.
Casey hasn't scored since that day. He had 10 goals last season.