Although Houston is surging into the picture and star-studded New York could still patch up their sinking ship, for now the race for the MLS Eastern Conference crown is shaping up to be a two-horse race between first-place Columbus and second-place Philadelphia.

Although Houston is surging into the picture and star-studded New York could still patch up their sinking ship, for now the race for the MLS Eastern Conference crown is shaping up to be a two-horse race between first-place Columbus and second-place Philadelphia.

Those teams will square off Saturday at Crew Stadium in a game that could have serious repercussions for the MLS playoff picture as the season enters its home stretch. A win puts the Crew firmly in first place. For the Union, victory means pulling even with Columbus on points with a game in hand.

Ignoring for a moment that a whopping four Western teams have more points than the East-leading Crew - making the Eastern Conference driver's seat they're vying for feel somewhat like a golf cart - let's compare Columbus and Philly as they prepare to battle for control of the East.

Record

Philadelphia: 8-5-10, good for 34 points in 23 games - second in the East and seventh overall

Columbus: 10-7-7, good for 37 points in 24 games - first in the East and fifth overall

Coach

Philadelphia: Former Polish international-turned MLS player-turned MLS coach Peter Nowak

Columbus: Former Polish international-turned MLS player-turned MLS coach Robert Warzycha

U.S. National team star

Philadelphia: Resurgent former teen phenom Freddy Adu, who made a strong showing at the CONCACAF Gold Cup this summer

Columbus: Resurgent former teen phenom Robbie Rogers, who scored for the U.S. in a friendly versus Mexico last week

Leading scorer

Philadelphia: Guatemalan international Carlos Ruiz, who is no longer with the team, has tallied six goals

Columbus: Peruvian international Andres Mendoza, who is often mentally absent, has notched seven goals

Former Crew players

Philadelphia: Brian Carroll and Stefani Miglioranzi, two gritty midfield staples on the Crew's 2008 MLS Cup-winning squad

Columbus: Jeff Cunningham, who is back with Columbus this season after six sordid years apart

Will win if

Philadelphia: new addition Adu and Philly favorite Sebastien Le Toux can find a rhythm and slice through the Crew's acclaimed defensive pressure

Columbus: previously injured players (Emilio Renteria, Dilly Duka, Rich Balchan) can stay healthy long enough to replace newly injured players (Eddie Gaven, Andres Mendoza)