D.C. United need at least two goals Sunday to have any chance of keeping their season alive, and their leading scorer is in doubt for the second leg of the Eastern Conference final.
The Houston Dynamo hope to take advantage at RFK Stadium and reach a second consecutive MLS Cup final - with perhaps the same opponent awaiting them there.
The front end of this series could hardly have gone worse for D.C., which led at halftime last Sunday but lost 3-1 and also saw Chris Pontius leave in the 12th minute with a groin injury.
The status of Pontius remains a mystery, with midfielder Marcelo Saragosa and defender Brandon McDonald also uncertain after exiting last weekend's game with injuries. Midfielder Andy Najar remains out due to suspension.
"You have to go into this game thinking 120 minutes, being down two goals," D.C. coach Ben Olsen said. "We'd be very pleased if we went into overtime. You have to have a majority of your guys ready to go for that duration. If you make too many subs early, it can affect what you need to do down the stretch."
Olsen may want to save one of his substitutions to insert Dwayne De Rosario. The 2011 MLS MVP hasn't played since Sept. 1 due to a knee injury, but he should be available Sunday - at least off the bench.
"He's healthy and ready to go," Olsen said. "It does seem like a game that you might want to use a guy like Dwayne De Rosario."
Houston wants to make any personnel decisions for D.C. a moot point.
The Dynamo have recent experience closing out an opponent on the road, although they'd like to make it a bit easier on themselves Sunday. They led top-seeded Sporting Kansas City 2-0 after the home leg in the East semifinals and held on despite getting outshot 21-2 in losing the second leg 1-0.
"I think the Kansas City game prepared us well and now we know what to expect," forward Will Bruin told the Dynamo's official website. "They're trying to get guys back from injury as soon as possible, so we expect everybody to come out and play and they're going to be throwing numbers at us."
Bruin has come up big for Houston in the postseason, totaling four goals and one assist in four games. His goal last weekend was sandwiched by tallies from Andre Hainault and Kofi Sarkodie after Nick DeLeon scored for D.C.
The 23-year-old Bruin played a smaller role for Houston last year, when the team reached the MLS Cup final and lost to Los Angeles. The Galaxy enter the second leg of the West final with a 3-0 lead on Seattle, meaning a rematch Dec. 1 is a strong possibility.
Houston can't afford to look past Sunday, though, especially on the road. The Dynamo were unbeaten in 19 home games this season but went 4-10-5 on the road, and United have outscored opponents 38-17 during a 17-match home unbeaten streak.
Of course, Houston has the luxury of advancing even with a one-goal loss Sunday, although coach Dominic Kinnear doesn't seem prepared to sit back.
"The plan is always to try and win the game, have possession and have chances in the attacking end," Kinnear said. "By no means are we saying 3-1 is enough, it's possible we may need another. It should be enough, but that doesn't mean we are going to sit in and defend the entire game."
Kinnear may have his full team healthy and available after midfielder Adam Moffat was cleared to return despite suffering a concussion last weekend.