Real Salt Lake and the Houston Dynamo are heading in opposite directions, but both clubs will have similar motivation in their only matchup this season.
Salt Lake will try to hold on to sole possession of the Western Conference lead Saturday night while snapping a three-game winless stretch, and Houston looks to maintain its grip on one of the East's playoff positions by matching its longest unbeaten streak of the year.
After going without a loss in eight straight, Real Salt Lake (11-7-5) is 0-2-1 in its last three MLS contests. It couldn't build on a one-goal halftime lead in a 2-all draw at Colorado last Saturday.
The result put RSL three points ahead of the Rapids and Portland in the West and dropped it into a virtual tie for the Supporters' Shield race with New York. The club, though, might have some momentum in its attempt to maintain its spot in the standings.
Salt Lake advanced to the U.S. Open Cup final Wednesday with a 2-1 victory over Portland, and it had defenders Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran back on the field. Wingert had been serving a suspension and Beltran was with the U.S. national team.
Those players could prove important as RSL has allowed eight goals in its last three league games after giving up five during a 6-0-2 stretch.
"I think that our back four looked quite a bit disjointed and it has been quite a bit disjointed now for several weeks," coach Jason Kreis said.
The Dynamo (9-6-6) have outscored opponents 7-3 during a 3-0-1 streak, topping Columbus 3-1 last Saturday. The victory and a New England loss to Toronto FC on Sunday put Houston three points ahead of the Revolution for fifth place in the East.
"We're in an alright position but we can't say that for long. We need to start getting things going and getting our points," midfielder Brad Davis said.
Houston has claimed the past two matchups with Salt Lake and won 1-0 in last season's only meeting Sept. 6 on a penalty kick in stoppage time.
The Dynamo are visiting Rio Tinto Stadium for the first time since a scoreless draw May 14, 2011. They're winless in their last four visits (0-1-3) and 1-3-4 there all-time.
"The league's as tight as it's been since its inception. Can we beat Salt Lake away from home? I think we can. We have the players to do it, but they're a tough team," coach Dominic Kinnear said.
Kinnear's club will try to match its five-game unbeaten run from April 14-May 8 before designated player Alexander Lopez's expected debut next week against Seattle. The Dynamo signed the 21-year-old midfielder as their second DP on Wednesday.
Salt Lake midfielder Yordany Alvarez will serve the second of his three-game suspension for a reckless challenge on New York's Tim Cahill in a 4-3 loss July 27.