The LA Galaxy come into Saturday's match with the Columbus Crew red hot. Aside from a 7-0 friendly loss to English Premier League giants Manchester United, one has to go back to late June to find the last Galaxy loss, 1-0 to the Carolina RailHawks in the U.S. Open Cup. Their last MLS defeat came in the middle of May, on the road to the Houston Dynamo.
The recent run has seen LA climb to fourth in the Western Conference and get back into the discussion for the Supporters' Shield after a relatively slow start to the MLS campaign.
This is nothing new to the Galaxy, who always seem to get the ball rolling at the right time of year to make a push for the MLS playoffs. Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter, who was a player for LA from 2009-2011, believes it is experience that propels them.
"I think they have experienced players," Berhalter said of the Galaxy.
"They've been through it before and they have confidence in each other and they have confidence in the team as a whole. As the season starts to become more meaningful, towards the end, that's when they step up. And they're good at that."
While LA has figured out the recipe for getting hot at the right time, Columbus are looking to figure out how to start their engines. After a brief 2-0-1 stretch, the Black and Gold lost 3-2 to Toronto FC last week in a game where they never had a lead.
According to club captain Michael Parkhurst, the Crew are becoming a little desperate to get points.
"There is a little sense of urgency," Parkhurst said of the Galaxy game.
"We know that we're in a decent spot, fighting for a playoff spot. There's still a handful of games left. We want to make sure we control our business sooner rather than later, put ourselves in a good spot for the last few games so we're not pressing to take nine points from the last three games or something like that. So these game are very valuable."
Points won't come easy against LA who posses one of the league's top offenses and the best statistical defense.
Listing the attacking options for the Galaxy is a who's who of stars young and old. Robbie Keane leads the team with 10 goals and seven assists on the season, but is only the tip of the iceberg. Landon Donovan has four goals and seven assists in what will be his final season, as he recently announced he will retire at the conclusion.
While the veterans have done much of the work, 22-year old Gyasi Zardes has nine goals, including six in the last six matches.
"He's done a great job," Berhalter said of the homegrown product this week.
"I think that they started playing him up top and I think that's made a big difference. I see his real quality as being a striker rather than an outside midfielder. He gets good service; they are able to provide good balls for him. He's able to move off Robbie Keane really well. He's playing extremely well. He's going to be a handful."
The Columbus defense was a strength for much of the season, but has recently come under fire. The Black and Gold have not registered a shutout in over a month and will have to be at their best on Saturday.
"It's crucial that we keep a good shape, that we stay organize," Parkhurst said of the defense.
"When they have time and space, it's where they get the runners, it's where Zardes is free in behind. Communication and staying organized is the absolute key to keep a shutout or make sure we're keeping it at zero or one goals."
Defensively, LA has talent with two top center backs. Omar Gonzalez played for the United States this summer in the World Cup and DeLaGarza held down the fort while he was gone. Yet the Galaxy play defense not with their defenders but with the ball.
"They do a lot of their defending by keeping the ball, putting the opponent in uncomfortable spots where you have a long distance to go to goal," Berhalter said.
This is what the Crew want to do as well: keep possession, put pressure on the opposition, and make them play defense. This game will ultimately come down to who can do this more efficiently Saturday evening.
The game will feature a "significant club announcement" two hours prior to kickoff, an honoring of Donovan, and a post-match fireworks show, yet the players will have to tune this all out and just go battle.
"We expect a packed house," Parkhurst said. "But that's our job as professionals is to go out there and, once the whistle blows, be focused and know we've got the job at hand and go out there and do what we do best."
If the Crew can find a way to "Blackout the Galaxy" - the slogan they use to advertise the games - it could be a momentum builder heading into the final stretch of the season that sets up nicely for the Black and Gold to make a run for the post season.