The Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City are both below the playoff line as they enter Saturday's pivotal match.
It is a rematch of last season's Western Conference championship won by the Timbers, with Sporting Kansas City being the hotter team as they arrive for the match at Providence Park in the Pacific Northwest.
But there is little margin for error with Portland (12-11-4, 40 points) and Sporting K.C. (10-11-7, 37 points) trying to chase down the Los Angeles Galaxy (13-12-3, 42 points) for the final spot with Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas sitting at 43 points.
Sporting K.C.'s hopes have been boosted by a three-game winning streak.
"The big difference is we have more confidence," Sporting K.C. goalkeeper Tim Melia told reporters. "There was never a doubt if we were good or if the team was talented, but right now we're in a good mind space and we need to keep going because we need to win quite a few more games to get to the playoffs."
Melia has thrived against Portland in four previous regular-season visits to Providence Park. He hasn't allowed a single goal while making 20 saves.
Melia, in his fifth season with Kansas City, also will be looking to set a franchise record for career shutouts. He currently has 45, tied with Jimmy Nielsen (2010-13).
He has registered shutouts in two straight matches but is more intent on just helping SKC land a crucial win.
"We still have a long way to go, but we're on the right track," Melia said. "We're winning at home, we're being really difficult to break down, and now we have a really difficult, really important task coming up against Portland."
Sporting K.C. will be without their top three goal-scorers -- midfielder Felipe Gutierrez (Chile) and forwards Johnny Russell (Scotland) and Krisztian Nemeth (Hungary) -- as the trio are among six players away for international duty. Gutierrez has 10 goals, Russell has nine and Nemeth has tallied seven.
Portland will be without midfielders Andres Flores (El Salvador) and Renzo Zambrano (Venezuela) for international duty, while up to seven others could miss the contest due to injury.
Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese is expecting some reserves to step up during the high-stakes match against Sporting K.C.
"(Our injured players) are getting closer, some of them, to be able to come back and start playing," Savarese told reporters. "Some of them, it's because they need to get their fitness back. Others are still recuperating from the injury. ... But the other guys are ready to play. The other guys are excited. We're looking forward to the match."
Forward Brian Fernandez leads Portland with 10 goals while midfielder Diego Valeri and forward Jeremy Ebohisse have recorded eight apiece.
In addition, Timbers goalkeeper Steve Clark has stopped 78.4 percent of his shots. The club record of 74.8 was set by Donovan Ricketts in 2013.
--Field Level Media