The San Jose Earthquakes return to MLS regular season action with a tough encounter on Saturday as the club plays host to the Portland Timbers.
After snapping a two-game slide with a much-needed 1-0 defeat of Seattle Sounders FC on July 13, the 'Quakes enjoyed a bye week from league play to host a friendly match against English side Norwich City.
And San Jose's 1-0 victory over the Canaries may turn out to be the confidence boost needed to bring the club back into the playoff race.
"I thought the guys played well tonight," Earthquakes interim head coach Matt Watson said after the friendly. "Before the game we talked about how there may not be any points on the line tonight, but everyone is playing for something. Tonight was a chance for us to play for pride, for our fans, and to show that we can compete against an EPL team. All the guys understood that and played a fantastic match."
The 'Quakes enter the weekend second from bottom on 24 points, eight points shy of a place in the postseason.
Portland, meanwhile, has fared much better this term as the Timbers, on 34 points for the season, remain just three points off the first-place pace set by Real Salt Lake.
Caleb Porter's side has lost just twice in league play thus far, but a plethora of draws has kept the club out of top spot in the Western Conference. The Timbers earned their 10th tie of the campaign last time out as they were held to a scoreless draw by the Philadelphia Union.
It was the first time that Portland had been shutout on the offensive end all season, but Porter opted to focus on the team's stout defensive showing, which resulted in a ninth clean sheet.
"We're proven to be a stingy team defensively," Porter said after the match. "That makes me happy because there are going to be games where you just can't find the goal, but at the very least you shouldn't lose. And if you get a clean sheet, you're not losing. At least you get a point, and on the road, it's not all bad to get a point."
Portland's turnaround coming off of two straight seasons without a playoff berth has been one of the biggest stories of the year, but Timbers midfielder Will Johnson believes that there is still room for improvement despite the club's superb position in the table.
"It's still early in the process of putting the team together, but we could be a lot better," Johnson said. "Being hard to beat and not being outworked, those are two very good blocks to build the team on, so I'm proud that we've got those things down. We just need to work on the attacking phase and quality of the attacking third."