With key playoff positioning at stake, Kansas City travels to Houston to face the club that knocked it out of the postseason each of the past two years.It wouldn't be crunch time in MLS without a clash between the Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City.
The Dynamo, who have upset Sporting KC in the playoffs each of the past two seasons, host the teams' latest meeting Wednesday night at BBVA Compass Stadium. With three games left in the season, Kansas City sits second in the Eastern Conference, four points up on third-place Houston.
The conference is so tight, in fact, that it's still possible for either side to claim the No. 1 seed or miss the playoffs entirely. Kansas City also remains very much alive in the Supporters' Shield race, as it is one point behind Real Salt Lake and two back of the New York Red Bulls while possessing a game in hand on both.
Despite the lofty implications, each club will be fielding far from a full squad because of international call-ups. Houston will be without Jamaica defender Jermaine Taylor and Honduras midfielder Oscar Boniek Garcia, while Kansas City will be missing the American duo of defender Matt Besler and midfielder Graham Zusi.
Houston will likely turn to Eric Brunner to replace Taylor in central defense, while Andrew Driver and Jason Johnson are candidates to take Garcia's place on the right flank. Kansas City, meanwhile, is poised to partner Aurelien Collin and Ike Opara at center back and bring Benny Feilhaber back into the lineup to fill Zusi's shoes.
Both squads will be focused on maintaining their current fine form. Houston, which defeated Montreal 1-0 on Friday thanks to a Ricardo Clark goal, is enjoying a 3-0-1 stretch. And Kansas City has won four of its past five, including a 1-0 victory Saturday at Columbus on the strength of Opara's header.
This is the clubs' third meeting of 2013. The previous two matches took place in May, with Kansas City getting a 1-0 win in Houston to end the Dynamo's 36-game home unbeaten run before the teams played to a 1-1 draw at Sporting Park.