Although Clint Dempsey is admittedly still trying to work on his fitness, the Seattle Sounders have been in great shape lately.
In Dempsey's return to his home state, the Sounders will try to earn a season-high fourth straight victory Saturday night and spoil the potential debut of Houston Dynamo designated player Alexander Lopez.
After playing for six seasons in the English Premier League, Dempsey made his official return to MLS in last Saturday's 2-1 victory over Toronto FC. Seattle's newest designated player replaced another, an injured Obafemi Martins, in the 34th minute and had five shots with one on goal.
"I'm still trying to get my fitness there. I'm not there yet but I was happy with the touches that I got tonight and the work that I put in, and the chances that I created and hopefully they will start falling for me in the games to come," Dempsey said.
The native of Nacogdoches, Texas, will next try to help the Sounders (10-7-4) claim four straight victories since a franchise record-tying five-game streak April 14-May 9, 2012.
Seattle, however, is 0-3-1 all-time at Houston (9-7-6) - the most recent visit on July 30, 2011 - and could use the three points in a competitive Western Conference. The Sounders are among a group of six teams separated by three points or fewer.
"Getting points at this part of the year is really, really important. We have a few games in hand and we need these points," midfielder Mauro Rosales said.
Houston is in the final playoff spot in the East, where the first- and seventh-place clubs are separated by nine points. The Dynamo are two points ahead of sixth-place Chicago and three in front of New England in seventh.
After going unbeaten in four straight (3-0-1), Houston missed an opportunity to add to their point total last Saturday, falling 1-0 at Real Salt Lake.
"We've got a history of strong finishes," midfielder Andrew Driver said. "Winners win when they need to, and that's hopefully what we'll do."
Lopez is a potential key piece to a stretch run after becoming Houston's second designated player Aug. 7. The 21-year-old midfielder could help his club against a short-hander Sounders squad.
Along with Martins' uncertain status because of an ankle injury, Seattle won't have forward Eddie Johnson available. Johnson scored for the U.S. national team in a 4-3 victory in Bosnia-Herzegovina on Wednesday and is suspended for this game because of an accumulation of yellow cards.
Martins has a team-best seven goals and Johnson has scored five. Johnson was with the U.S. national team during the only meeting with Houston last season, a 2-0 win on March 23, 2012.