It's possible that the New York Red Bulls could be functioning better this year because of three additions from Real Salt Lake.
Fabian Espindola, Jamison Olave and Jonny Steele all face their former club for the first time Saturday night when the Red Bulls host an MLS-leading Real Salt Lake team that will be without four key starters.
New York (9-7-5) has failed to get past the quarterfinals in each of the last three seasons. Although Real Salt Lake (11-6-4) has only advanced past that round once in that span, the club won the 2009 MLS Cup with Espindola and Olave as regular starters.
Those two totaled 11 seasons with Real Salt Lake before they were traded to the Red Bulls in the offseason for allocation money.
"They're two really good players that we're going to have to be aware of, I know that they'll be up for the game," RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy said. "Obviously it'll be good to see them but once we're out there, they're on the other side."
New York also acquired Steele in a separate deal, and the midfielder who spent his first MLS season with RSL in 2012 is fourth among Red Bulls players with 1,542 minutes.
Grabavoy said that trio has helped stabilize a New York team known for players who starred in Europe such as Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill.
"They're kind of taken that winning mentality to New York and I think it's paid off a little bit," Grabavoy said.
New York is 0-5-1 in its last six meetings with Real Salt Lake. Henry, who has a team-high seven goals, has no goals or assists in five matchups.
"For me, since I have been in this league, Salt Lake has been the best team by a distance," Henry told the Red Bulls' official website. "But as you know here you have to win the MLS Cup. You know if it was in any other league, Real Salt Lake would have been champions this year, like in terms of consistency."
Henry has been more dangerous at home with six goals and three assists compared to one in each category on the road. RSL knows that keeping him off the board again will be critical Saturday.
"Thierry Henry, I think he's the catalyst," defender Nat Borchers said. "Every time he finds the ball he's moving defenders around and creating space for other players to run through so I mean we have to really be mindful of him and make sure he doesn't get a lot of touches on the ball."
Henry may like his chances against a short-handed defense.
RSL is without goalkeeper Nick Rimando, midfielder Kyle Beckerman and defender Tony Beltran, who are with the United States national team for Sunday's Gold Cup final. In addition, defender Chris Wingert is suspended for getting sent off in last Saturday's 2-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City.
That defeat ended the club's 11-game unbeaten run in all competitions.
Forward Alvaro Saborio has re-joined the club after playing for Costa Rica.
The Red Bulls are 6-1-1 in their last eight at home as they try to find the net after last Saturday's scoreless draw at Toronto FC.