After blowing an opportunity to maintain first place in the Western Conference a week ago, Sporting Kansas City hope to return to winning ways at home when they host the Houston Dynamo from Children's Mercy Park on Sunday.
KC dominated Dallas in midweek, earning a 3-1 victory to remain two points behind the Seattle Sounders, while the Dynamo are goalless in their previous two matches, playing to a 0-0 draw on Wednesday versus the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Like they have done all year long, the Wizards were a lot cleaner in all aspects of their game on Wednesday, firing seven shots on Dallas in a convincing win that saw them remain within striking distance of the Rave Green, who they lost to at home in their previous encounter.
Their games with Orange Crush have gone back and forth lately, with each side winning three times over the last six encounters, while neither team could capture consecutive games against the other.
The Wizards are a perfect 14-0-0 when scoring at least twice in a game this season, and they know how to maintain their composure when there are points at stake, failing to lose a single match this year when they are tied or ahead of their opponents beyond the 75th minute.
They have been exceptional in the final third on their home field, scoring in 29 consecutive regular-season affairs at Children's Mercy Park, the longest active streak in Major League Soccer.
Kansas City have captured first place in the Western Conference in two of their previous three campaigns, mainly because they have elevated their play in the home stretch of the season, losing only one of their final seven fixtures in 2018 and again in 2020.
A promising week for the Houston Dynamo between September 11 and 18 was perhaps one of the few bright spots for Tab Ramos and his team so far in 2021 as they went unbeaten in three straight games.
The end of the month, however, was a lot more what we have seen from them throughout the season, failing to find their mark on several occasions and struggling with consistency.
They will be losing up to five players due to upcoming World Cup 2022 qualifying schedule, which will not help them in their quest to make up the 11-point deficit that they face at the moment in their bid to claim a postseason berth for the first time since 2017.
They have spent a decent amount of time in the attacking zone, earning the third most corner kicks in MLS (154) but rarely are they able to convert those chances.
In attack, their strikers have not been able to time their runs all season, being flagged for offside 53 times, the second-most in the league.
When they concede first, Houston seem to fall apart, having gone winless the entire year when allowing the opening goal and failing to win a single match in 2021 when trailing at the half.
Combine that with the fact that they have only scored 11 second-half goals this year with just four in the final half-hour, it is easy to see why they are in their current position, in 12th in the Western Conference.
Roger Espinoza will hope to earn his 250th career start in the MLS regular season, Graham Zusi could move into a tie with Preki and Kyle Beckerman for sixth-most game-winning assists in MLS if he can set up the winner on Sunday, while his next goal or assist would see him hit the century mark for combined goals and assists in his career.
Alan Pulido has four goals and an assist in five career appearances versus the Dynamo, and KC have only lost once in 12 matches when he has scored, while Johnny Russell has been a critical contributor of late, scoring in four successive MLS matches, the longest active streak in the league at the moment and the second-longest in Wizards history.
Dynamo defender Tim Parker has been a mainstay at the back, starting all 28 games that they have played, having been on the field for every minute.
Houston goalkeeper Michael Nelson collected his second clean sheet of the season on Wednesday, stopping the only shot that he faced against the Caps, while defender Teenage Hadebe did a great job of neutralising the Vancouver attack with five clearances and 10 recoveries, plus one block and three key passes.
Sporting Kansas City possible starting lineup:
Melia; Martins, Fontas, llie, Dia; Espinoza, Barber, Walter; Salloi, Pulido, Russell
Houston Dynamo possible starting lineup:
Nelson; Parker, Hadebe, Junqua, Valentin; Rodriguez, Garcia, Lassiter, Corona; Pasher, Picault
We say: Sporting Kansas City 3-0 Houston Dynamo
This is the time of year when KC seem to take their game to another level, and they have been clinical in front of goal at home lately, scoring six goals while conceding none in their previous two games.
Tab Ramos is hoping to end the year on a positive note with his job potentially on the line, but only one of his team's final six matches are against sides below Houston in the overall standings, so we might not see the Dynamo win another game this year.