With ample focus on World Cup qualifying this week, both domestically and around the globe, there still are nine MLS fixtures to account for in Week 23.

Perhaps the biggest match of the weekend occurs in Nashville Friday (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+), two days before the United States host Canada at Nissan Stadium.

Nashville SC welcome New York City FC, two teams challenging toward the top of the Eastern Conference behind runaway leaders New England Revolution (49 points). Nashville sit tied for second with Orlando on 35 points, while NYCFC are a point behind them in fourth, all with a game in hand on their upcoming opponent.

Even with a handful of international absences, the first-ever meeting between the sides should be a good one.

“We’re getting ready for what could possibly be classified as one of the games of the season," Nashville head coach Gary Smith told media on a virtual press conference. "New York City are coming in with good form, in a good position in the league."

NYCFC will be without James Sands, Alexander Callens and Maxime Chanot, their first-choice defensive foundation, whether it's all three as center backs or Sands as a No. 6 in front of Callens and Chanot, as well as starting left back Gudmundur Thórarinsson. Nashville won't have Walker Zimmerman, Anibal Godoy, Randall Leal or Alistair Johnston.

Still, both managers are wary of the quality their opponent holds, even without a few regulars. Nashville are undefeated at home this season, winning seven and drawing six at Nissan Stadium, and have only lost twice all year.

“It’s a clear style by a team who executes a plan really well," NYCFC head coach Ronny Deila said of Nashville. "Good discipline, togetherness and hard work. They have skillful players who cause problems for any team in MLS, it’s a good mix. They’re hard to break down, that’s the main thing.”

NYCFC have lost just one of their last eight matches and are coming off a 2-0 win over the Revs last weekend as they climb the table. They're viewed as one of the top teams in the league, led by Taty Castellanos and a deep attack to complement their defensive core.

“When you look at the best teams in any league, you’re talking about a group of players are capable in so many different areas," Smith said. "Their front line, a center forward in wonderful form. Castellanos has tremendous creative ability around him, with multiple bodies who can fill those roles and strength who can come in off the bench.

"Then guys like (Keaton) Parks and Sands – I know Sands will be missing – but they have a structured group who can support the front line. ... They have everything you need. They are one of the best teams in this division."

Nashville hope to force their way into that conversation, too.

"I think we can say New England and New York are fighting it out for the two very groups in the Eastern Conference," Smith said, "and this is our opportunity to challenge that.”