The Portland Timbers and Los Angeles Galaxy are set to meet at The Home Depot Center on Sunday in a match with major implications for the bottom of the Western Conference table.
Portland and Los Angeles have underwhelmed so far this season, especially the Galaxy who had aspirations of back-to-back MLS Supporters' Shields and MLS Cup titles.
Instead, the Galaxy's porous defense and lacking presence of a consistent scorer have anchored the team to the bottom of the Western Conference with 11 points through 13 games.
But after a two-week break to accommodate international fixtures, Los Angeles will be looking to start fresh.
"The break came at a good time," Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant told reporters on Thursday. "We got away for a little bit, took a deep breath and we've had a good couple of weeks of training."
Los Angeles still has plenty of time to make up ground and finish in a respectable position. That journey begins Sunday against a Western-Conference foe.
"The one thing that kind of helps us in a way is the unbalanced schedule," Dunivant said. "We get to play Western Conference teams three times which means we can make up ground. We're going to be playing conference teams and, [if] we keep beating teams in our conference, that's going to put us higher in the table."
The unbalanced schedule is a two-way street though, and if the Timbers are able to pick up their first road win of the season, the Galaxy will sink into an even bigger hole.
Portland has struggled offensively this season, scoring just 12 goals in as many games.
The arrival of striker Kris Boyd prior to the start of the campaign has not produced the immediate return that the Timbers had hoped, so the club made a move during the hiatus by sending Jorge Perlaza to the Philadelphia Union in exchange for Danny Mwanga.
It may take some time for the strikers to gel, but the Timbers have a great deal of confidence in the entire group.
"It'll take some time as these things always do," Timbers assistant coach Amos Magee said. "Certainly Danny has played well with Mike Fucito over the last week. And the last few days him and Kris Boyd have looked good and sharp as well. So we feel like we have three forwards who are starting to understand each other a little better. ... We feel good about the quality of all three of those guys now."