The Chicago Fire do not have any time to savor one of their biggest victories of the season at Real Salt Lake on Wednesday.
Chicago heads into Saturday three points behind the New York Red Bulls, who currently hold the final wild card spot with 39 points. With only four regular-season games remaining, the Fire can potentially eliminate the gap behind New York when they face the Houston Dynamo at Robertson Stadium.
Chicago interim head coach Frank Klopas's squad is in the midst of a three-game stretch in seven days. On Tuesday, the Fire head to CenturyLink Field to take on the Seattle Sounders in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final.
"Unfortunately we don't have the luxury of games that aren't important," Fire defender Dan Gargan said. "All of these games are massive for us. Frank knows that, and he's doing the best to put out a good side each time we're out there."
"We're talking in the locker with our teammates that each game is a playoff for us right now," Fire midfielder Marco Pappa said. "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 (7-8-15, 36 points) are in the midst of five wins in their past six matches, the most recent a 3-0 win over RSL, led by Pappa's hat trick. Houston (10-9-12, 42 points) has posted back-to-back wins and is third in the Eastern Conference.
It is a tight race for everyone, but Chicago is on the outside looking in. Even if the Fire defeat Houston and the Red Bulls lose to Toronto FC on Saturday, New York carries the playoff advantage over Chicago. New York and Chicago posted a pair of draws during the regular season, but at the moment the Red Bulls hold an advantage over the Fire in goal differential.
Fire midfielder Sebastian Grazzini is questionable for Saturday's game with a hamstring injury, but he is in Houston with the team.
Fire forward Dominic Oduro will be a focal point during the match. Oduro, who missed a sitter with Houston to open the season, was then immediately traded to Chicago for Calen Carr.
The move has been a steal from the Fire's standpoint as Oduro leads Chicago with 11 goals.
Earlier this season the Dynamo came from behind to pull off a 1-1 draw against the Fire on April 23 at Toyota Park. Diego Chaves had the game's first goal, but Bobby Boswell scored in the 83rd minute to give Houston a road point.
Houston has had the best of Chicago in the past three meetings at Robertson Stadium, winning all three games. But the Fire are playing at a different level these days. Their three-game winning streak is their first since May 16-28, 2009.
"I think that we're certainly coming together as a group," Gargan said. "We're getting better performances day in and day out. As good as the Real Salt Lake win feels, it's behind us. That is only the beginning of a tough road trip. Saturday is a crucial matchup against a tough team, in another tough place to play. We have to keep moving in the right direction."