MLS play returns on Saturday for FC Dallas and the Columbus Crew, as the teams meet at Columbus Crew Stadium for the only time this season. Both teams come into this game after two midweek Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup game during the World Cup break.
Despite being eliminated from the tournament, the Black and Gold are pleased with what the Open Cup gave them over their three week break.
"I think it was a good progression," Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter said this week.
"Obviously the NASL game [against Indy Eleven], we were shorthanded for 65 minutes and then the overtime period. It wasn't how we would like it to go. The [Chicago Fire] was a good exercise. It gave some guys who haven't been playing against MLS teams some good minutes and it was important."
Both teams played 120 minutes of competitive soccer in this week, but FCD's game was on Tuesday, giving them an extra day to rest before this game. On the flip side, Dallas played in the blistering Houston heat, which will not help their personnel issues on Saturday.
Two of FCD's top scorers, Blas Perez and Fabian Castillo will miss this game due to suspension. Playmaker Mauro Diaz - who has three goals and three assists - is also out after knee surgery in early May.
"They're really good players. I'm glad we're not going to be playing them," Crew defender Eric Gehrig said of Dallas' missing player Friday after training.
"They still have some dangerous players. They have some pace up from with [Tesho Akindele], [Andrés Escobar's] a good player on the left. We're not going to take them lightly."
Berhalter also believes his team cannot view the injuries as a reason to believe this game is already won. FCD has demonstrated depth this year after a series of injuries and a club record eight red cards in the young campaign.
"I think that you've got to work with the guys that you have and you do your best to still try and get results," the head coach, who has dealt with his own personnel issues this season, said on Friday.
"They're certainly losing some quality but you look at the guys that step in, they're also good guys. They've done a pretty good job building that squad and I think they have a pretty deep squad and I still think they have some talent."
Dallas could be boosted by the return of midfielder Michel, who travelled with the team to Columbus for the match after missing time. The Brazilian has five goals and two assists in 11 games this season and at 6'1", helps an already dangerous set piece team.
"I think they're very good on set pieces. They've got some big, tall guys. They take long throw ins," Berhalter said of FCD's ability on dead ball situations.
"They've got some real quality pieces. I like that team a lot."
Of the 28 goals Dallas has scored, five have come from indirect free kicks while three are from direct attempts, and one from corners. They have also scored four penalties on the year.
Both teams had similar trajectories this season. After a fast start - seven games unbeaten to start the year - FCD has only one MLS win since the end of April. The Crew also has one league win over that time period, making this game big for both clubs.
Even with the missing players, the Black and Gold are expecting a talented attacking side on Saturday that will make for a tough game.
"Very attacking oriented. Some speedsters," midfielder Wil Trapp said when asked about Dallas.
"They like to get forward. Some big guys as well, so they're dangerous on set pieces. We have to be prepared. We're going to be prepared for a battle, but we're at home. We're coming off some nice time here and we're ready to go."
Despite the recent struggles, both teams are still in a good position in terms of the standings. Columbus is currently tied with the New York Red Bulls on 18 points for fifth place in the Eastern Conference, the last playoff spot. FC Dallas is in a three-way tie for third in the Western Conference with 22 points, but they have played more games than anyone else in the conference.
Both teams will be looking to come out of the game with the full three points, as they now enter the mid-point of the season where results begin to mean more.
"The break in the season was kind of our turning point where we said, ‘now the focus shifts slightly,'" Berahlter said.
"We're not saying it's MLS Championship or bust this year, but what we're sayings is that games now that we expect to win, we want to win."
Saturday will be the first chance to earn one of those wins.
Projected Starting XI