Despite being in playoff position in the Eastern Conference, the Houston Dynamo might be feeling quite a bit of urgency for a win.
Before playing three straight games against the only teams ahead of them in the East, the Dynamo visit a New England Revolution club looking to tie them in the standings Saturday night.
The Revolution (11-11-7) enter the match three points back of the fourth-place Dynamo (12-10-7), and both have five to play. This is the teams' final meeting of the regular season after each won on the other's home field.
"They're going to be up for the game," Dynamo defender Kofi Sarkodie told the team's official website. "I think for them this is just as important as a playoff match if not more important to keep close and to keep in the race. They're going to be up for it for sure, we've just got to match their intensity and keep playing how we're playing and make sure we produce in the final third."
Houston's next three games come at home against the East's top clubs - Montreal, Sporting Kansas City and New York - and the Dynamo are a combined 0-5-1 against them.
This matchup could be made much more difficult if New England's Juan Agudelo plays. The 20-year-old forward has six goals in seven starts for the Revolution after being acquired from Chivas USA on May 7. He missed the Revolution's come-from-behind 2-1 win Saturday over D.C. with a hamstring injury.
The Revolution are 4-1-2 in Agudelo's starts.
"He's done so well for us," coach Jay Heaps told the team's official website. "We have a special confidence when we're on the field with him. We haven't dropped many points when he's been on the pitch for us. You want him to play, but at the same time, you don't want to see any more setbacks because we need him over these next five games and into the playoffs."
The victory over D.C. followed a three-match winless streak that included critical losses to fellow East playoff contenders Montreal and Chicago.
Midfielder Diego Fagundez tied the D.C. game a minute after Lee Nguyen missed his first of two penalty chances, and Nguyen netted the winner from the spot in the 83rd minute.
Fagundez has scored four times in five matches.
Another of his team-high 11 goals came May 18 at Houston. It was the same game Agudelo made his Revolution debut by coming off the bench to silence the home crowd with an 84th-minute insurance goal in the 2-0 win.
The Dynamo returned the favor July 13 with a 2-1 win at New England.
Both matches have been intense, featuring a total of three red cards. Six cards were handed out in the first match, and Revolution forward Dimitry Imbongo was sent off in both meetings.
"It's going to be a battle," New England defender Andrew Farrell said. "We're going to have to kind of fight them first then play the soccer second. It's going to be a fun one. It's kind of like a playoff atmosphere every weekend now."
The Dynamo have won a season-best three in a row overall by an 8-1 margin, including Wednesday's 2-0 CONCACAF Champions League victory over W Connection. They've won back-to-back league games after a four-match winless streak in MLS play during which they were outscored 12-2.
Last Saturday's 5-1 win over Chivas featured two goals from both Giles Barnes and Boniek Garcia.