Though a move back to the Western Conference hasn't been easy for the Houston Dynamo, a strong run has them on the cusp of the playoff picture.
An important three-game road stretch that begins with Saturday's match with the New England Revolution could help decide the Dynamo's postseason fate. Houston (8-8-7) is one point behind Seattle for the West's final playoff seed but has a game in hand on the struggling Sounders, and it has gained ground in the race by collecting points in five of its last six MLS games and going 2-0-1 in the past three.
The Dynamo further closed the gap with a 2-1 win over San Jose last Saturday, moving ahead on Alex's goal in the 77th minute.
Houston improved to 6-0-1 over its last seven overall home games with that victory, but the club has scored just four goals while going 1-4-1 in its past six on the road across all competitions.
Following Saturday's game, the Dynamo will have key showdowns at West members Portland and Colorado.
"If we go and have a good run and do our job we'll be in the playoffs," defender DaMarcus Beasley told the league's official site. "We worry about what's in this locker room and make our own destiny."
Houston would be holding down a playoff spot if still in the East, where the club resided the previous four seasons. The Dynamo's 31 points match New England (8-9-7), currently tied with Toronto FC for fourth place.
The Revolution have gotten back on track as well. After being outscored 13-4 over a five-game losing streak in MLS play, New England registered six goals during a 2-0-1 sequence before being idle last week.
Lee Nguyen has scored in each of those matches and Charlie Davies delivered his first multigoal game since September 2011 when he struck twice in a 3-1 victory over Toronto on Aug. 1. The goal total was New England's highest since April 25.
"I think our shape defensively is helping us be in better positions to attack," coach Jay Heaps said. "When we are in a good shape defensively, we can inch into those areas and get turnovers and be in those positions. It's not always going to be a goal, but that's where we're usually at our best when we're extending those positions in other teams' halves."
The Revolution received a boost from midfielder Jermaine Jones, who played his first game since May 31. The U.S. national team member was sidelined two months by sports hernia surgery.
Ricardo Clark, whose five goals rank third among Houston players, will miss a second straight game with a hamstring injury. Goalkeeper Tyler Deric (foot) and midfielder Nathan Sturgis (suspension) are expected back for the Dynamo after both missed last week's win.
New England is 6-1-5 at home and won two of three from Houston last season, including a 2-0 victory at Gillette Stadium. Texas native Nguyen scored twice in the most recent meeting, a 2-1 road win Oct. 16.