D.C. United will try to keep its run of good form rolling on Saturday when the club heads to PPL Park to face the Philadelphia Union.
United's poor play in MLS action this season has seen the club bottom the Eastern Conference for the majority of the campaign - Ben Olsen's men enter the weekend in last place with just 13 points.
But things could be on the up-and-up as D.C. has strung together two straight wins across all competitions. United managed to produce an impressive 3-1 home win over the Montreal Impact in league play last weekend and followed the victory with a 2-0 defeat of the Chicago Fire on Wednesday to reach the U.S. Open Cup final.
"It's been such a struggle in the league that I think after we got to the quarters there was a real focus on our part to understand that this was extremely important and if we're going to have a chance to win anything this year our best shot is the Open Cup," Olsen said after the defeat of Chicago. "What I'm encouraged about is that the last two games we look like a team. We have actually played some good stuff and we look like we have some rhythm and our attack is more dangerous. Part of that is we are getting guys fit and getting guys rhythm. (Luis) Silva is a huge piece that has changed the way we can play. (Conor) Doyle, (Jared) Jeffery, these guys are all now guys that are helping out on the bench and there is just a different feel about the group as well. It's a little late from a league standpoint, and that's disappointing, but if you are going to be in a situation that we are in the league, it's nice to be in the finals."
United will face Real Salt Lake in the Open Cup finale, a matchup that Union head coach John Hackworth sees as evidence to underline the parity in MLS.
"I think it just shows that D.C. is in good form right now," Hackworth said. "They had a really good result last week beating Montreal, then they turned it around in a short amount of time and went to Chicago and got a great result.
"I think it just shows how much parity this league actually has. It's actually kind of crazy that the Open Cup final has literally the best team vs. the worst team in the league as far as the league standings right now. But that shows you how close the gap is between the two. If you look at our standings right now, we're two points from second, we're four from first, but depending on how it goes over the next 11 games we could be in a spot we don't want to be in. It just puts that much more emphasis on how close this league is and in particular how crazy this year has been for all of the teams."
And the next stretch of games is crucial for the Union. Beginning Saturday, the next four matches will pit Philadelphia against Eastern Conference opposition. And after Saturday's meeting with United, each opponent over that stretch has a realistic shot of the playoffs, making each contest a virtual "six-pointer."
Philadelphia has struggled to find consistency of late, posting a 2-2-2 record over its last six matches. Kicking off that vital stretch with a win over D.C. could prove to be crucial to the Union's playoff hopes.