While the Columbus Crew control their playoff destiny, last-place Orlando City SC wants to end their home schedule on a positive note and keep their opponents fighting for one of the final two Eastern Conference spots.
Columbus looks to continue its recent mastery over Orlando on Sunday in central Florida.
The Crew were blanked for the second straight game with a 3-0 loss to the Montreal Impact on Oct. 6. But a two-week break from match play may have the club re-energized down the stretch.
According to The Columbus Dispatch, coach Gregg Berhalter's side clinches a berth with a win. Columbus (13-10-9) would also lock down a spot if Montreal loses or draws against defending MLS Cup champion Toronto FC on Sunday. TFC is out of the playoff mix.
The Crew are undefeated in six straight against Orlando (7-21-4), including four wins. Though the Lions are winless in 13 straight (0-10-3) and have set an MLS record for most goals allowed in a season with 72, Berhalter expects a battle.
"I would never insinuate that we're going in thinking this is a light opponent," he told The Dispatch. "That's not the case. It's going to be a difficult game and we're going to have to be prepared."
The Crew have collected a conference-low 39 goals this season, with 16 coming from Gyasi Zardes, who needs one more to set a season best. The sixth-year forward also had 16 goals in 2013 with the LA Galaxy.
Zardes notched two goals in Columbus' 3-2 win over Orlando on July 21.
With 10 shutouts in 2018, Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen needs one in the final two regular-season matches to tie the club's season record set by William Hesmer in 2010.
"Going down to Orlando is never easy and it's a team that can't make the playoffs, so that's always dangerous," Steffen noted. "So they're just playing free and soccer's a cruel game and can be very frustrating and difficult.
"We just have to go down there with a plan and stay patient."
Orlando is playing its second game of the week after falling 2-1 on Wednesday to the Seattle Sounders, who reached the postseason for the 10th straight year.
The Lions dug themselves another hole by allowing two goals in the first 13 minutes.
"We need to stop defending the way we're defending. We're chasing the game," Orlando coach James O'Connor said.
The Lions' lengthy scoreless streak ended with Dom Dwyer's goal in the 57th minute. Orlando had not scored since Sept. 1.
"We've just got to keep working hard, grind out the season (with) two more games left," said Dwyer, who has 13 goals.