Surging Nashville SC can punch their ticket to the postseason when they host Houston Dynamo FC on Sunday evening.
Nashville (12-9-11, 47 points) began the weekend in fourth place in the West. It can clinch a playoff berth with a win versus Houston or a draw against the Dynamo combined with a Portland draw against LAFC. A win would strengthen Nashville's chances for a home game in the first round.
Standing in the way is Houston (9-17-6, 33 points), which is mired in 13th place in the 14-team conference and has long been eliminated from the postseason.
Nashville is riding a season-best six-game unbeaten streak that has included four victories. It has allowed just three total goals during the streak, and never more than one in a game. Nashville has lost only once this season in the 21 matches it's conceded fewer than two goals.
Nashville's most recent MLS outing was a 1-1 draw at Austin on Sept. 17 in which Hany Mukhtar's penalty kick in the 56th minute was the side's lone goal. Nashville followed up that performance with a 3-3 tie at home against America in a Leagues Cup Showcase match on Sept. 21.
"We know what playoff games are like -- we've had the benefit of having two years in them, having wins and losses each year," Nashville left back Dan Lovitz said. "We want to make sure we're the ones hosting when the time comes for as many games as possible because we know how important that is."
Mukhtar, the leader in the race for the Golden Boot with 23 goals, has contributed to a tally in each of his past 10 home matches, the longest such run in the league this year.
The Dynamo have dropped nine of their past 11 road matches and have not won away from home since July 17.
Houston fell at Los Angeles FC 3-1 in its most recent match on Sept. 18, with Corey Baird scoring his second goal of the season for the Dynamo in the setback. Houston is 1-1- in the three matches since Paulo Nagamura was fired on Sept. 6 and Kenny Bundy took over as coach.
"It's just the pride of playing for this club," Baird said of the Dynamo's attitude. "We don't want to be in the position we're in and we're not going to just lay down and just accept where we are, like, okay, this season's over. We're going to keep fighting to the very end."
Houston beat Nashville 2-0 at home on May 14 in the first meeting between the teams this season.
--Field Level Media