The Los Angeles Galaxy were hot from start-to- finish last season as they claimed the MLS Cup, and the goal this year is to enter the postseason in similar form.
After a horrible 3-8-2 start this year, the defending champions have regained the form that produced a title. In their last 15 games, the Galaxy are 10-3-2 and in great position for the final six matches of the season.
L.A. (13-11-4) is fourth in the Western Conference, well ahead of fifth-place Vancouver Whitecaps FC, and could move into a tie for third with a win against the Colorado Rapids on Friday night at The Home Depot Center.
"It would put us in a nice position," L.A. manager Bruce Arena said. "It would tie us with Salt Lake for third, which would be quite an accomplishment after the start and being told ... we wouldn't make the playoffs."
Just 10 points off the pace of the San Jose Earthquakes, the West and overall MLS leader, Arena admitted he was aware of the other teams in the conference.
"This time of year," Arena said, "you should know because everyone's battling for playoff position."
In previous seasons, L.A. could have benefited from a lower finish in the West as it could have switched over to the East bracket for the playoffs. But with that format scrapped, climbing the West table is important.
For Galaxy forward Mike Magee, it was important to maintain current form and carry that into the postseason.
"You always know the team that ends up winning the MLS Cup is the team that goes into the postseason hot," Magee said. "It doesn't matter what we did in the middle of the season, it doesn't matter what we did in the beginning of the season.
"All that matters is how we finish strong."
L.A. could also have Landon Donovan back from injury, as he is set to return after a month on the sideline with a hamstring strain. That is just more bad news for the Rapids.
Colorado (9-17-2) should provide little or not resistance for L.A., as first- year coach Oscar Pareja and his team limp toward the end of his debut season.
The Rapids are just 2-12-0 on the road, with their last win away from home in May against FC Dallas. Just two points off the bottom of the West standings, Colorado needs a decent finish to avoid the foot of the table.
Although not likely based on its year-long form, Colorado could still make a late run at the postseason. The Rapids are also just eight points out of the final playoff berth held by Vancouver.
A point at L.A., no matter how ugly, would be a step in the right direction as Colorado tries to salvage its season over its last six matches.