Heading into the final third of the MLS season, teams are looking to separate from the pack with an eye on playoff positioning.
Two Western Conference teams that couldn't be more evenly matched square off for the first time when Los Angeles FC hosts Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night.
LAFC (10-6-6) and Sporting KC (10-6-6) each has 36 points, and they are tied for third in the West. Both clubs are one point behind the surging Portland Timbers -- who are unbeaten in 15 straight MLS matches -- and one point in front of the LA Galaxy. Real Salt Lake, with 34 points, holds the sixth and final playoff spot going into the weekend.
However, LAFC is winless in a season-high four straight MLS matches (0-2-2) after falling 2-1 on the road to the New York Red Bulls on Sunday.
The Black Gold, 5-0-5 at Banc of California Stadium in its inaugural season, opens a three-game homestand and doesn't leave southern California until Sept. 1 against Toronto FC.
LAFC has a quick turnaround after falling in an eight-round penalty-kick shootout to the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday night in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals.
"We go one day at a time. One result at a time," LAFC coach Bob Bradley said. "You know, we've had some excellent wins and some tough losses. One thing that's happened over and over is the group has continued to move forward, so we have good leadership."
LAFC also pulled off a trade to fortify a strong offense, acquiring southern California native Christian Ramirez from Minnesota United FC on Monday. The forward is the Loons' career goals leader with 21, including seven this season.
Ramirez joins an team that features forwards Adama Diomande (team-high nine goals), Carlos Vela (eight goals, team-leading 14 points) and Diego Rossi (seven goals).
"He is a player we have monitored for a while and are incredibly excited to welcome him home to Los Angeles," general manager John Thorrington said in a press release regarding Ramirez.
With a 4-4-3 record away from home, Sporting KC has already doubled its win total on the road from last year. Sporting is also 8-3-3 all time in first meetings against expansion clubs dating to 2005.
The club snapped a five-game winless streak (0-4-1) with a 1-0 victory over Houston last Saturday. Diego Rubio scored his league-leading fourth goal as a substitute in the 74th minute.
Forward Johnny Russell and Daniel Salloi lead the team with seven goals apiece. However, Russell has just two since April 20, and Salloi has two in his last five starts.
That could be why Sporting also swung a deal on Monday, re-acquiring forward Krisztian Nemeth from the New England Revolution. The forward had 10 goals and six assists in 28 games (23 starts) with Sporting in 2015.
"From everything that I can tell, he's fit," Sporting coach Peter Vermes told the team's official website. "Game fitness is always game fitness, but he's been training every day and been doing all of that."
Vermes also said he's "very confident" that Nemeth will be available to be selected for this match.