The defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy haven't played much like they did last year, and a second straight match without David Beckham could put them in an even deeper hole.
With Beckham serving another one-game suspension, the Galaxy try to avoid a third straight loss Sunday when they face the Chicago Fire, who are seeking a fifth consecutive home win for the first time in nine seasons.
Los Angeles (6-10-2) appeared to have turned a corner with three straight victories following the international break, but that's turned out not to be the case. The Galaxy fell 4-3 at San Jose on June 30 before suffering a 2-1 defeat to Philadelphia on Wednesday.
"The reality is, is we should be five wins in a row right now and now we find ourselves behind the eight-ball a little bit again," captain Landon Donovan told the team's official website. "It's difficult to take but the reality is now it's over. We can either moan about it or we can ... get ready for Chicago."
Things may not get any easier for the Galaxy with Beckham sitting out again. The superstar midfielder was suspended for yellow-card accumulation for the Union game, and he received a one-game ban from the league Thursday for kicking a ball at an opponent during the loss to the Earthquakes.
Despite the Galaxy's lackluster play and Beckham's absence, the Fire (8-5-4) aren't taking Sunday's matchup lightly.
"They're still the champions," defender Gonzalo Segares told the team's official website. "They didn't really change much - they're still the same team. When things are tough that's when you show your true colors. They're in a tough situation but at the same time, they're a dangerous team - at any moment they can flip the switch and be on the same level as last year."
While Chicago has gone 1-4-1 in its last six meetings with Los Angeles, it could give the Galaxy all they can handle in this one. The Fire have outscored opponents 9-4 during their four-game run at Toyota Park and are 5-1-2 overall there. The club's last five-game home winning streak came Oct. 4-Nov. 14, 2003.
Four days after winning 1-0 at Kansas City for its third consecutive victory, Chicago extended its unbeaten stretch to four with a scoreless draw at Houston on Tuesday.
In fourth place in the Eastern Conference, the Fire will again try to match the nine victories they posted in both 2010 and '11.
"We talked about goals at the beginning of the year to have a certain amount of points and wins that were going to give us the best opportunity to get in the playoffs," Segares said.
"We're starting to blend and keep with the same mentality - playing tough defense and try to take our chances that we get up front. When we do that, we're successful and give ourselves the chance to have many more than nine wins."