Entering the final month of the season, the Chicago Fire have little margin for error to make the playoffs.
It's been the same story for them for the last six weeks, however, yet they've still managed to survive.
The Fire look to continue their stunning turnaround and win four consecutive league games for the first time in six years when they visit the Houston Dynamo on Saturday.
Chicago's playoffs hopes seemed bleak on Aug. 18, when it was last in the Eastern Conference with 21 points, 10 behind the playoff cutoff with six other clubs in its way. The Fire (7-8-15) have since won five of six - this after winning just two of their first 24 league games - and are now three points behind New York for the final playoff spot with two other clubs between them.
"Each game is a playoff for us right now," Chicago's Marco Pappa told MLSsoccer.com after Wednesday's 3-0 win over Real Salt Lake. "We're still alive and we need to get points, and we know the next game is going to be hard in Houston."
The Fire, 2-4-9 on the road, have lost three straight at Robertson Stadium, where the Dynamo have won four in a row and are 5-0-1 since the start of July.
Houston (10-9-12) is in third place in the East, two points back of first-place Sporting KC. While a top-three finish would earn the Dynamo an automatic playoff berth, they're also just three points ahead of the cutoff for a wild-card spot.
Houston is coming off last Saturday's 1-0 win over FC Dallas, as Geoff Cameron scored in the 87th minute to lift the Dynamo to their first road win.
"Maybe (the Dallas win) will start some momentum for the rest of the season and into the playoffs," Cameron told the Dynamo's official website. "That's our main goal: to finish off the season strong, get into the playoffs, and make a run for it."
In Houston's previous game, a 2-1 win over San Jose on Sept. 17, Will Bruin scored the go-ahead goal in the 79th minute. Three days before that in Columbus, Calen Carr scored the game's final goal in 86th minute to help the Dynamo to a 2-all tie.
Houston has an MLS-best 14 goals scored in the 76th minute or later.
"(The late) success just means we're playing until the last whistle," striker Brian Ching said. "It shows the mentality of our team and the fact that we're coming out and seeing games through."
The Dynamo also benefited from a late goal at Toyota Park on April 23, when Bobby Boswell scored in the 83rd minute to force a 1-all draw.
Houston's Tally Hall finished with four saves Saturday to earn his fifth shutout of the season, but building on this effort could be tough against a red-hot Chicago offense.
The Fire have scored three goals in winning each of their last three matches after previously reaching that mark only once this season, a 3-2 victory over Sporting KC on March 26. Chicago, which faces Seattle on Tuesday in the U.S. Open Cup final, hasn't won four straight league games since June 26-July 9, 2005.
Pappa led the Fire's offense Wednesday, scoring three goals to end a 12-game goal-scoring drought.
"The most important thing is we needed the points and we got the points,'' Pappa said