Atlanta United and New York City FC are nipping at the heels of the first-place Philadelphia Union in the MLS Eastern Conference.
Both sides hope to get even closer while also impacting their opponent's place in the standings Sunday when Atlanta hosts NYCFC.
Atlanta may be forced to play without Josef Martinez, who is uncertain for the match after straining an adductor in training last week. He sat out Atlanta's 2-0 U.S. Open Cup semifinal win at Orlando City on Tuesday but trained with the first team Friday.
"He's eager to come back as quick as possible," manager Frank de Boer said. "We have to sometimes push him a little bit back because he's really eager to step in the next game."
The match kicks off two hours before first-place Philadelphia visits Houston. Atlanta (12-9-3, 39 points) is second and three points back and if things go right it could be tied for the lead, while NYCFC (10-4-8, 38 points) is third and four points behind.
Only six points separate the top five spots in the East, with the New York Red Bulls one point behind NYCFC and D.C. United two points out of third.
Atlanta has won three of its last four games and is 9-0-1 in its last 10 home games in MLS play after dominating the Los Angeles Galaxy in a 3-0 win on Aug. 3. Martinez tied the league record by scoring in a ninth straight match when he converted a penalty in the 72nd minute after Atlanta capitalized on a pair of own goals before halftime.
NYCFC has won three of four since consecutive one-goal losses July 7-14. NYCFC rebounded from a 3-1 loss on Aug. 3 at Real Salt Lake to record a 3-2 victory over Houston on Thursday at Yankee Stadium.
Valentin Castellanos scored twice in the second half while Alexandru Mitrita scored in the first half.
"It was a must-win for us," NYCFC midfielder Alex Ring said. "Just because of the situation we're in with the games in hand and you don't want to throw away opportunities."
All-Star Maximiliano Moralez only played 12 minutes as a substitute after sitting out the previous game. Moralez is tied with Carlos Vela for the league lead with 13 assists and is expected to return to the starting lineup Sunday.
Including two wins in last season's playoffs, Atlanta leads the all-time series 3-1-2.
--Field Level Media