The Los Angeles Galaxy have already clinched a spot in the MLS Cup playoffs but need to turn around a recent winless trend if they want to hold onto the third position in the Western Conference and the home playoff match that come with that seeding.
That makes Sunday's road match against the Houston Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium a crucial one for the Galaxy. The Dynamo have been eliminated from the postseason but can certainly put a bee in Los Angeles' bonnet with a win in Houston's final home match of the season.
Los Angeles (11-6-15, 48 points) has won only two of its last 12 matches (2-3-7) and cannot finish any higher than its current standing. The Galaxy had their winless run stretched to three games on Oct. 1 after dropping a 1-0 road match at FC Dallas that also snapped a string of five consecutive games of having scored multiple goals.
Injuries continue to disrupt the Galaxy's chemistry. Forward Gyasi Zardes is out with a broken foot, midfielder Steven Gerrard is home in Liverpool, England, rehabbing a hamstring injury and forward Robbie Keane's availability will be determined at game time.
Still, Los Angeles has serious bona fides: it has dropped just six matches all season, second only to Colorado's five, and forward Giovano Dos Santos is back with the squad after finishing his duties with Mexico's national team.
Los Angeles coach Bruce Arena argued that he is not concerned with his team's current form or the road ahead.
"What am I concerned about? Who said I was concerned?" Arena told reporters this week. "I never said I was concerned. Where we are right now -- we're in position to win the MLS Cup. We're in the playoffs."
Houston (7-13-12, a Western Conference-low 33 points), which has yet to decide whether interim head coach Wade Barrett will return in 2017, refuses to adopt a role of spoiler in the final stretch, even as it kept Seattle from clinching a playoff spot with a 0-0 draw in the Emerald City on Wednesday.
"It's been a tough season for us but we're still after positive results," Barrett said. "We all have a lot to play for and I have a lot to coach for. Part of it is professional pride. You want to step on the field and compete and do well. We're in it for our reasons, not for theirs."
The Galaxy have won both previous contests against the Dynamo in 2016, a 4-1 win in Houston in April that was their first ever at BBVA Compass Stadium and a 1-0 victory at home in July.