SUNDERLAND, England – FC Dallas' run to last fall's MLS Cup final was at least a mild surprise considering it finished tied for the league's fourth-most points during the regular season.
Dallas won't likely be able to sneak up on anyone this time.
FCD is within two points of the league lead thanks to a three-game winning streak, but that streak won't be easy to extend Saturday night as it tries to become just the second visiting team out of the last 35 to win at Real Salt Lake.
Dallas (10-4-4) had 50 points last season to finish third in the Western Conference, then surprised both teams ahead of it in the standings - including RSL - to make it to the league's championship game.
While Dallas drew a league-high 14 times in 2010 - nine coming during a 19-game unbeaten run that Real ultimately halted - this season it's more often than not coming away with three points. Coach Schellas Hyndman's team has won three straight including Saturday's 2-0 victory over Columbus.
Dallas, which hasn't won four in a row since Sept. 26-Oct. 17, 2009, leads MLS with 10 wins, as finishing with the league's best record appears to be a real possibility.
"The Supporters' Shield will be a target for us if we can continue on this run," Hyndman told the team's official website, "but right now I think we are talking a little too early about it.
"Let's get to the playoffs. Let's be one of those top three teams. Now once we get to the playoffs, let's win an MLS Cup."
Dallas can at least briefly overtake Los Angeles - which hosts Chicago later Saturday - with a win at Rio Tinto Stadium, but that certainly won't be easy. RSL's 2-1 loss to Seattle on May 28 was its only defeat in its past 34 home games.
It nearly dropped another Monday night against New England after defender Nat Borchers was sent off in the third minute. Salt Lake (7-3-6) battled back from a two-goal deficit before again falling behind, but Fabian Espindola's goal in the 83rd minute secured a 3-3 draw.
"As a coach you have a lot of faith in your group," coach Jason Kreis said. "We've been through so many situations. We've been together so long, we've been through just about situation. Maybe not that one, but just about every other type. That's why I felt like we were going to get through this."
Borchers' red card means he'll miss this match, and that's bad news for RSL's defense. Dallas midfielder Brek Shea has scored in four consecutive matches, while fellow midfielder Jackson has scored in two of his last three.
"The better you play, the more confidence you get," Shea said. "You just get on a roll. I am just on a good roll right now."
Espindola, meanwhile, leads RSL with five goals despite playing in only 11 games. He missed the teams' scoreless draw at Pizza Hut Park on May 22.