D.C. United still in playoff hunt as it hosts FC Dallas

D.C. United earned only four points combined from six matches against the top two teams in the Supporters Shield standings this season. Yet if they can manage better against FC Dallas, the third team in those standings, they'll find themselves above the playoff line for the first time this season.

United (11-11-8, 41 points) enters their Saturday afternoon clash at Audi Field two points beneath the line with two matches in hand on the sixth-place Montreal Impact. And while Montreal joins most teams in being idle during this week's FIFA international match window, D.C. will make up both games before the Impact play again, facing Dallas Saturday and then Toronto FC the following Wednesday.

D.C. is unbeaten in its last six after an important come-from-behind, 2-1 victory against the Chicago Fire on Sunday, but has little room for a breather.

"I feel the same way now as I did before," coach Ben Olsen said after that win. "We have to keep pushing because we have another 'most important game of the season' next weekend against Dallas. That's just how it has to be for the rest of the year and that's okay. I trust our guys and know they're up for it."

Meanwhile, Dallas (16-6-9, 57 points) is on its own five-match unbeaten run as it attempts to lock up the top spot and No. 1 playoff seed in the Western Conference, and is already assured of a playoff spot after coach Oscar Pareja's team missed the 2017 postseason following a second-half collapse.

During his five-year tenure, Pareja's Dallas teams have always been offensively talented. But this group's recent form owes a good bit to defense. In their five-match unbeaten run, FCD has given up only three goals while keeping three clean sheets.

"When you have a team that can do the right things defensively then you can be very optimistic of their result knowing that we're strong also with going forward," Pareja said. "It's good to see them getting the clean sheets, and getting the zero is important."

Both clubs will be short-handed due to international call-ups, though the situation could be worse.

Dallas will be without two regular starters as American defender Reggie Cannon and Ecuadorean midfielder Carlos Gruezo join their respective national teams. Maynor Figueroa is also going to play with Honduras, but he's been limited to a reserve role over the second half of the season.

As for D.C., they'll be without a handful of players, though only Venezuelan midfielder Junior Moreno is a regular starter. Perspective American contributors in goalkeeper Bill Hamid and midfielders Russell Canouse and Paul Arriola were not called in for friendlies against Colombia and Peru.

Updated October 11, 2018

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