An intriguing Eastern Conference clash between Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo will lose some of its luster based on some critical absences.
Each club will be missing two key players due to international duty, with Sporting Kansas City out to try to clinch a playoff spot Wednesday night in Houston.
Sporting Kansas City (15-10-6) will be without Graham Zusi and Matt Besler, who are both with the United States national team. Houston (13-10-8) won't have Boniek Garcia, who is with Honduras, and Jermaine Taylor, who is with Jamaica.
"The more you think about it, the more you want to complain," Houston coach Dominic Kinnear told the league's official website. "You just have to deal with it."
The losses could impact Sporting Kansas City more since Zusi has a team-high eight assists, although he was limited to none in two meetings this season in May - a victory for Kansas City and a draw.
Those results have done little to ease the sting of the last two postseasons in which Houston knocked out Kansas City, and the Dynamo appear to be peaking again as the playoffs near. They are on a 3-0-1 run after Friday's 1-0 victory over Montreal.
"I've always said that Dominic and Houston, they figure out a way how to become in-form and playing really well towards the end of the season," Sporting coach Peter Vermes said. "They manage the season well from that perspective."
Kansas City is in second place in the East with 51 points, four more than third-place Houston. Sporting will move one point ahead of first-place New York and clinch a playoff spot with a victory.
Houston can move closer to a postseason berth with three points, which would be enough for it to qualify this weekend if Chicago loses and New England fails to win.
Dynamo midfielder Andrew Driver returned from a four-match absence with four minutes Friday. It appears he will see more action this week after being out with a right calf injury.
"Having him available for this game is a big bonus," Kinnear said. "It's nice when you look down there and see him and knowing he's available, it's helpful."
Sporting Kansas City won for the fourth time in five games with a 1-0 victory Saturday over Columbus as Ike Opara scored on an assist by Zusi. Jimmy Nielsen recorded his 11th clean sheet - one off the league lead.
The Danish goalkeeper has allowed eight goals in five career games at Houston, and he expects to be called upon to help slow down a Dynamo team that has totaled eight goals during its unbeaten run.
"We have struggled earlier with Houston at home, when they come and sit back a little bit and we can't open up, they counter us a little bit," Nielsen said. "When we play in Houston, it's two teams going forward."
Aurelien Collin scored in the second half as Kansas City ended the Dynamo's 30-game league home unbeaten streak May 12 with a 1-0 victory the last time these teams met in Houston.