First place in the Eastern Conference is on the line Sunday night when D.C. United host the conference-leading Philadelphia Union at Audi Stadium in Washington, D.C.
Philadelphia (11-7-6, 39 points) has held the top spot for over two months but enter the weekend just three points in front of second-place Atlanta United (11-9-3, 36) and third-place D.C. United (9-6-9, 36), who trail the defending MLS Cup champs in the standings because of goal differential.
Only seven points separate the top eight teams in the East heading into Saturday's action, with the top seven teams qualifying for the playoffs.
"As everybody can see, the Eastern Conference is very tight," Philadelphia coach Jim Curtin said. "Every point is going to matter down the stretch here. ... I stressed to the group we have 900 minutes left in the regular season, and every minute now has to be played at the intensity of the playoffs."
The Union have won the last four meetings with the Black-and-Red by a combined score of 10-2 and will be completing a stretch that has included six of eight games on the road, including a 4-0 loss at the Montreal Impact last Saturday.
"Obviously a bad night all around for the group," Curtin said. "That wasn't us. I expect a strong response from our group. ... Get back to us has been the message all week."
Philadelphia is expected to get a boost in the return of midfielder Jamiro Monteiro, who began training again this week after missing four games with a sprained left ankle. Monteiro leads the team with seven assists to go along with four goals.
D.C. United, which played to a 0-0 draw at the Chicago Fire last Saturday, is unbeaten in their last seven games at home where they have compiled a 5-2-5 record. Wayne Rooney leads the team with 11 goals.
"Other than LAFC (MLS-best 49 points), I think Philly has been the most consistent team in the league," said D.C. United coach Ben Olsen. "We're looking forward to it. Make no mistake it's a big game for us, and I think it's a big game for them. ... I think it's clear to the players and clear to the staff that there needs to be an urgency right now to play better and pick up points."
--Field Level Media