Philadelphia Union coach Jim Curtin will have some tough personnel choices to make when his club hosts Western Conference leader Sporting Kansas City on Sunday.
After Fafa Picault's goal deep in second-half stoppage time lifted the Union (13-12-4, 43 points) to a surprising 1-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders -- ending Seattle's record nine-match winning streak -- the Union moved within a point of fourth-place Columbus Crew SC in the East.
If Philadelphia can pass Columbus down the stretch, it would host a knockout-round playoff game rather than hitting the road as a fifth or sixth seed, making every match down the stretch a crucial one.
However, the Union also have the chance to win their first hardwear in club history three days after Sunday's match when they head to Texas for the U.S. Open Cup final against the Houston Dynamo.
If anything, the win in Seattle may convince Curtin that if he does play his best lineup in the Cup final and rests players on Sunday that Philadelphia has a good chance to return from Houston with a trophy. After all, it was the Union's sixth league win on the road this season, five more than they had in 2017.
"Last year was not a good season for us on the road," Curtin acknowledged. "This season we've strengthened our mentality. The guys have belief now when we go on the road and play fearless. It's not easy to get points on the road and any time you can come to Seattle and walk away with anything, let alone three points, it's a good night."
Meanwhile, Kansas City (15-7-6, 51 points) has plenty of reason to throw everything into their last trip of the season to the East Coast.
Sporting have won six of its last seven to return to the top spot in the West standings, one point ahead of FC Dallas, who play later on Sunday. And Peter Vermes may have more offensive weapons than at any point in his coaching tenure of nearly a decade.
First, KC welcomed Chilean star Felipe Gutierrez back from a nearly three-month absence in July as he recovered from sports hernia surgery.
The club followed that by reacquiring Hungarian forward Krisztian Nemeth from New England just before the close of the secondary transfer window in early August.
Gutierrez scored his first goal since his return in Kansas City's 1-0 victory over Orlando on Sept. 8, and Nemeth bagged his first in MLS this year in last week's 5-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes.
"I have been waiting for this moment," Nemeth said afterward. "I got the chance, so I tried to add for the team, and Gerso (Fernandes) gave me a great ball, so it was an easy goal."