Real Salt Lake has gone on a nice little streak to retain its status among the top contenders for the Supporters' Shield. FC Dallas has needed an even greater one to join the conversation.
The Western Conference foes meet Friday night with visiting Salt Lake trying to hold off surging Dallas at the top of the standings.
Salt Lake (11-4-9) grabbed sole possession of first in the West with Saturday's 2-1 home win over Seattle, but the Sounders matched Salt Lake for the conference lead with Wednesday's 1-all draw against San Jose. The victory was Salt Lake's third straight and pushed the club's unbeaten streak to six.
Joao Plata gave RSL the lead in the 53rd minute and an own goal extended it in the 57th. Plata, in his second season with the club, has scored in three straight matches and has a team-high 11 goals for the season after never topping four in his previous three seasons in the league.
Real Salt Lake's stretch of opponents from the stacked West now continues. The club has 10 games remaining - all against conference foes.
"These games really are six-pointers the rest of the way," coach Jeff Cassar said. "You can really start putting some distance from other teams. ... (Dallas is) a massive game. There are less and less available games to play. I think guys are starting to smell it and feel it. Right now, it's about getting our bodies right and making sure we've recovered as best as we can - it's going to be a hot game in Dallas - and making sure we refreshed and focused on a very dangerous team."
RSL's unbeaten streak looks quite modest up against its 12-match run to begin the season, and it's also dwarfed by Dallas' nine-game unbeaten span, which has it within three points of the conference lead.
Including U.S. Open Cup matches, Dallas (11-7-6) hasn't lost in regulation in its last 13, and the latest victory was certainly the most impressive.
Dallas put on a show in Saturday's 5-0 victory at San Jose with Tesho Akindele becoming the seventh rookie in league history to record a hat trick. The club also got a pair of goals and an assist from Fabian Castillo on its way to the franchise's largest margin of victory in a road game.
While Akindele was named MLS player of the week, the 22-year-old Castillo has five goals in five games as he's become a consistent threat for an attack that's emerged as one of the most dangerous in the league.
"I have more confidence in myself. The coach gives me more confidence to play," Castillo told the club's official website. "Every year I get better and I'm doing a lot of individual work with the coaches. One is always trying to get better and I think I'm practicing hard and getting better every year."
The clubs last met in Utah for a scoreless draw May 24, the final match in Salt Lake's season-opening run. The all-time series in Dallas has been extremely ugly for Salt Lake, which is 1-10-2 in those games.
The last such meeting, however, ended in a 3-0 RSL win July 13, 2013.
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