The first-place Philadelphia Union have little breathing room with defending champion Atlanta United just three points behind in the Eastern Conference race.
That makes Saturday's road tilt against the Chicago Fire a crucial match. Doesn't matter that Chicago is mired in 10th place in the eyes of Union coach Jim Curtin.
"Still in first place but not content," Curtin said during a midweek press conference. "I still have to stress -- it's an important three points for the group at this stage of the season."
Philadelphia (13-7-6, 45 points) has won two straight matches and three of its last four. The stretch began with a 2-0 home win over the Fire on July 20 when midfielders Marco Fabian and Anthony Fontana scored the goals.
"They have a deep roster. We're very familiar," Curtin said of the Fire. "We played them not too long ago ... Chicago is a tough opponent."
The Fire (7-11-9, 30 points) are three points behind the playoff line in the bunched up East.
They will be without midfielder Aleksandar Katai (four goals) after he received a red-card suspension in Wednesday's 3-2 road loss to the Portland Timbers. The ejection left Chicago a man short for the final 60-plus minutes.
Forwards CJ Sapong (team-best 10 goals) and Nemanja Nikolic (nine) scored the goals against the Timbers. Sapong is in his first season with the Fire after spending four seasons with Philadelphia.
Nikolic's goal was his 48th with Chicago, moving him into a tie for second place in club history with Chris Rolfe (2005-09, 2012-13).
Midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty are expected back in the Fire lineup after being rested Wednesday. Chicago was unbeaten in three games (2-0-1) before the loss in Portland.
"We play for every point, for every game with a mindset to win," Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said earlier this week. "We know we cannot fail and we have to give our best. There is nothing to change. Just keep going and pushing forward."
Forward Kacper Przybylko has a team-best 11 goals for Philadelphia. Przybylko and defender Jack Elliott scored the goals in the Union's 2-1 win over the Houston Dynamo last Sunday.
--Field Level Media
Union not taking Fire lightly in trip to Chicago