Sporting Kansas City returns to MLS play Sunday when they host the defending Supporters' Shield champions, the New York Red Bulls, at Children's Mercy Park.
Sporting KC (2-1-2, 8 points) advanced all the way to the semifinals of the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League before losing to Mexican power CF Monterrey on Thursday.
Sunday marks the start of a six-week stretch that will see Sporting KC play six of eight league matches on home soil.
The Red Bulls (1-3-1, 4 points) are coming off a season in which they set an MLS record for most points (71) in a 34-game regular season. But they lost in the Eastern Conference Finals against eventual champion Atlanta FC.
This season has not started off as successfully as 2018 ended. The Red Bulls have lost three straight league games for the first time in two years and have lost five of six in all competitions, including a quarterfinal defeat to Santos Laguna in the CONCACAF Champions League.
"I don't go in thinking streaks and losing," New York head coach Chris Armas said. "For me it's trying to get the team to look like our team. As we talk about being aggressive with and without the ball, we want to shift things to be more aggressive.
"What's most important for us is when we step on the field we're up for the challenge on Sunday against a really good team. They're really good in their building."
New York's early struggles don't detract from the fact that Bradley Wright-Phillips, Kaku and Daniel Royer lead a potent attack. Wright-Phillips has scored 106 regular-season goals since 2014, 40 more than any other player, while Kaku amassed six goals and 14 assists in his debut MLS season last year. Royer has led the way thus far in 2019 with a team-best four goals and two assists in all competitions.
The Red Bulls likely will be without Alex Muyl, who is out with an ankle injury.
"He's like a starfish; he regenerates quickly," Armas said. "But we probably won't push him this weekend."
Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said he knows New York will still present a challenge.
"Teams go through different types of form," he said. "New York is a good team. They always have a really good work ethic. Sometimes things don't go your way. That's just the way it is at times. All I see from New York is the same team I've seen in the past. They can strike. They can score multiple goals. It's going to make for a really tough game for us."
Sporting KC is looking to extend their regular-season home unbeaten run to nine. Krisztian Nemeth (eight goals), Gerso Fernandes (four goals, four assists) and Johnny Russell (three goals, four assists) all have contributed offensively. And Daniel Salloi returned Thursday after missing almost a month with an ankle injury.
Sunday's primetime battle features two teams that have made a habit of reaching the postseason over the last decade. New York's nine-year playoff run is the second-longest active streak in MLS, while Sporting KC's eight-year run ranks third.
The last time the Red Bulls traveled to Children's Mercy Park came in September 2017. Sporting KC defeated New York 2-1 in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final, receiving the game-winning goal from Salloi to win the tournament for the third time in six years and deny the Red Bulls their first major cup trophy.