BARCELONA – If there's a winner Wednesday night between the Columbus Crew and Sporting Kansas City, that team will take over the Eastern Conference lead.
The problem is that victories have been hard to come by for both.
The Crew are winless in their last five games while Sporting Kansas City has one victory in that same span as these teams get ready to meet at Livestrong Park.
Sporting Kansas City (10-9-11) and Columbus (11-11-8) have both accumulated 41 points from 30 games to leave them in a second-place tie behind East-leading Houston, which has 42 points from 31 games.
"This is it right here," Kansas City forward Kei Kamara said. "Win against Columbus definitely puts us top."
The Crew, however, are in a 0-4-1 slide while Kansas City is 1-2-2 in its last five. Columbus won 1-0 at home on April 16 in the teams' first meeting.
"I know Kansas City is a tough opponent," Crew midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo said. "They're a good attacking team, when they're at home, we give them the edge."
Columbus has lost consecutive 1-0 games, falling at home to Los Angeles on Saturday on Chad Barrett's goal in the third minute of second-half stoppage time.
"We had chances. We didn't capitalize,'' goalkeeper William Hesmer said. "We came out and took it to them. We were going to go down swinging and we did, unfortunately.''
Columbus has allowed 14 goals during this winless stretch.
The Crew's defense could be tested by a new attacking formation adapted by Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes. He made a key change at halftime in last Friday's 1-all draw with Philadelphia, moving defender Julio Cesar to the midfield and replacing an ineffective Jeferson with Aurelien Collin in the back line.
Cesar filled in the gap between the midfield and the defense, giving Kansas City more room to operate for Roger Espinoza and Graham Zusi.
"I thought tactically it solved all of the issues we needed," Vermes said. "Julio brings experience and calmness and when he gets the ball it is very easy for us to build out through that central channel."
That level of calmness was absent from Cesar's game when he picked up a second yellow card in the 72nd minute to draw an ejection in the first matchup with Columbus.
Starting Collin could pose a risk since he is second in MLS with nine yellow cards behind Los Angeles superstar David Beckham's 10. Collin has drawn yellows in three of his last four starts.
The Crew, meanwhile, have been outscored 9-2 in a three-game road skid as they try to recover from the loss to the Galaxy.
"To get a win in Kansas City is not impossible," Ekpo said. "We just have to get our act together, forget about this game and believe that we can do it and go there and get a result."