LIVERPOOL – D.C. United are playing well, but with plenty of movement possible in the crowded Eastern Conference standings, there's no guarantee they'll end a four-year playoff drought.
That should be motivation enough for United to give it their all against the lowly Portland Timbers.
D.C. goes for a season high-tying fourth consecutive victory Saturday night at Portland in the only meeting between these teams in 2012.
Coming off back-to-back 1-0 victories over Philadelphia and Chivas USA, United (15-10-5) are tied with New York for the third-most points in the East.
However, with the top five teams in each conference qualifying for the postseason, United still need to push for points over the final four matches as fifth-place Houston is four back and sixth-place Columbus trails by five.
A matchup with Portland (7-15-8), the West's eighth-best team, would seem to favor D.C, but the Timbers have been solid at home, going 7-4-4 this season and 2-0-2 since Aug. 1.
United had lost six straight road games before winning their most recent one Sept. 20 at Philadelphia.
"I don't think where (the Timbers) stand in the standings shows the type of team they are," D.C. leading goal scorer Chris Pontius told the club's official website. "... They've been unlucky with some bounces, been unfortunate, and maybe they just don't see out games as well as they should, but they're a dangerous team and that's how we're treating them. It's a tough place to play and we're not looking past this game at all."
The Timbers are on the verge of being eliminated from playoff contention, but with major changes expected in the offseason - incoming coach Caleb Porter will take over full-time when his season at the University of Akron is over - the club has plenty to play for during the final month.
"To be honest, I think most of the guys have felt that way, not just me," forward Bright Dike, who scored in last Saturday's 2-1 loss at Real Salt Lake, told MLS' official website.
"I mean, these are the first early years of our team, and I think everybody has felt that from Day 1. And I don't think that's changed really."
Portland goalkeeper Joe Bendik could make a third consecutive start with starter Donovan Ricketts (shoulder) and backup Jake Gleeson (hand) still recovering from recent injuries.
Goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who has yielded one goal during United's three-game win streak, is one shutout shy of setting a career high with eight. He made two saves in a 2-1 victory over Portland on May 29, 2011, as D.C. handed the expansion side its first home loss following five wins.
These teams haven't played since the Timbers eliminated United from playoff contention in 2011 with a 1-all draw at RFK Stadium on Oct. 19.