After a disappointing first few games, the New York Red Bulls are starting to pick up steam.
New York goes for a third straight win overall and third in a row over the Columbus Crew as these Eastern Conference rivals square off Saturday.
While the Red Bulls (4-4-2) allowed six goals in opening 0-2-2, they've since surrendered seven during a 4-2-0 stretch. New York has been especially formidable over its last four games, winning three while outscoring opponents 8-3.
"To look up and see you got nine points out of 12 is a great feeling," coach Mike Petke said. "We didn't solve the final puzzle, and we're not on our way to the MLS Cup yet, but it's very positive these guys find a way to get the result."
The Red Bulls are coming off last Saturday's 2-1 win at Toronto FC. Tim Cahill provided all the offense with his first two goals of the season, including a header in the 89th minute.
"The two goals today were just the cherry on the cake because he does exactly what we ask him to," Petke told the league's official website. "He leads us in the midfield, he plays very stingy defense and he's a workhorse. He's an example for our young midfielders."
New York has won back-to-back road contests after starting 0-3-1 as the visiting club.
"Being able to go on the road and know we can perform and know we can get results is always a huge confidence booster," midfielder Eric Alexander said.
The Red Bulls now turn their attention to the Crew (3-2-3), whom they've outscored 8-3 during a 2-0-2 run in the series. New York won both matchups in 2012, including a 4-1 road victory last April 7 thanks to Thierry Henry's two goals.
Despite that success, Petke isn't expecting anything to come easy this time around.
"It's gonna be a difficult game," he said. "Columbus is always a very tough opponent in Columbus. Hard working, high pressing with a lot of quality. We need to win the ball and work it into their half."
The Crew bounced back from an 0-1-2 stretch last Saturday with a 3-0 win over D.C., improving to 1-0-2 at home. Dominic Oduro, Josh Williams and Federico Higuain scored while Andy Gruenebaum made a season high-tying six saves to record his second clean sheet.
"We'd like to have a couple of more shutouts," said Gruenebaum, who is allowing 0.88 goals per game - the league's fifth-lowest mark. "Having said that, if we can be there at the end of the season with that we're a happy group of people who are in the playoffs, hopefully.
"We have the talent at the back and going forward to keep possession and just shut out teams. That's what we need to do. If we can get a zero on our end we'll let the other side take care of itself."
Since making three saves in a scoreless draw versus New York on April 7, 2007, Gruenebaum has allowed 14 goals during a personal five-game losing streak against the Red Bulls.