As clichéd as it sounds to say that every game for the Union lately is their biggest of the season, there's a fair amount of truth to the idea.
On Saturday, the fifth-place Union (10-11-3, 33 points) host the seventh-place New England Revolution (7-9-8, 29 points) at Talen Energy Stadium (7 p.m., PHL17). A win would blow that four-point gap in the standings out to seven, and could be a nearly fatal blow to New England's hopes of making the playoffs. The odds of that are slim enough already: despite the standing this week, FiveThirtyEight.com gave the Revolution just a 20 percent chance of reaching the postseason. The Union's chances are a healthy 74 percent.
To spice things up further, it's the second meeting in three weeks between the teams. It's a safe bet that New England hasn't forgotten the last game, in which it came back from 2-0 down before the Union got a late penalty kick to prevail, 3-2.
The scouting report likely hasn't changed all that much from then to now for either team, but the stakes have.
"There's certainly confidence within the group that you can feel at training, you can feel in the locker room, you can feel in the film sessions," Union manager Jim Curtin said. "We have it right now, and we don't want to let it go."
Now add this: After Saturday's game, the Union have a quick turnaround to a Wednesday game at D.C. United, which has roared up the standings in the last few weeks. Wayne Rooney has silenced doubters who thought he came to MLS as a gimmick, with 26 shots, three goals and two assists in his eight games so far. D.C. is on a three-game winning streak that includes a 2-0 win over New England last weekend.
Curtin can't help but look ahead a little bit.
"I'd be lying if I said it doesn't affect" the team's plans, he said. "We've done well with the Saturday-to-Wednesday [turnaround] … The travel and the turnaround to Orlando, that's the difficult one in terms of rotation and using the guys."
After the Wednesday game, the Union go to Orlando City, which has won just two of 17 league games since the start of May.
It is a stretch that could well define the season. All three matchups are winnable for the Union. Sweep them — or at least don't lose any of them — and they'll look really good heading into the stretch run.
Lose, though, and all the good work done over the last few weeks could evaporate in a hurry.
Saturday, 7 p.m. at Talen Energy Stadium
Union's record: 10-11-3, 33 points (5th in the East); 6-4-2 at home
New England's record: 7-9-8, 29 points (7th in the East); 1-5-5 on the road
Series history: Union 12 wins, New England 6 wins, 4 ties
At Talen Energy Stadium: Union 7 wins, New England 3 wins, 2 ties
D Michael Mancienne: A veteran of English clubs Wolves and Nottingham Forest, as well as Germany's Hamburg, the 30-year-old centerback made his MLS debut last weekend.
M Wilfried Zahibo: Usual midfield stopper Scott Caldwell is suspended after getting red carded last weekend. Zahibo is likely to be called upon to step up.
D Andrew Farrell: The stalwart right back has played every minute of the season, and scored a goal against the Union two weeks ago.