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Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas square off in exciting West showdown of MLS's 2 hottest teams

Published: Thursday, Aug. 21 2014 7:57 p.m. MDT

Updated: Thursday, Aug. 21 2014 7:57 p.m. MDT

Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman (5) and Seattle Sounders FC forward Kenny Cooper (33) compete during MLS action in Sandy Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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With three straight victories — including two at home against a pair of MLS’ best — Real Salt Lake has methodically clawed back into the thick of the Supporters’ Shield race.

This Friday, though, it faces the only team in the league hotter than itself.

FC Dallas has won three straight, five of its last six, and rolls into Friday’s Western Conference showdown on a nine-game unbeaten streak. It’s the second-longest unbeaten streak in MLS this season behind RSL’s 12-game streak to open the season.

“They’re just ruthless right now. They’re scoring, they’re getting their chances,” said RSL midfielder Luis Gil.

On the same day RSL temporarily vaulted into first place in the Western Conference with a 2-1 win over Seattle last weekend, FC Dallas put a big hurting on San Jose with a 5-0 victory on the road. It was the worst defeat in San Jose’s 19-year history.

Slowing down that potent attack is the task in front of Real Salt Lake this Friday (7 p.m. MDT, NBC Sports).

“Dallas is obviously on a run and had a great game against San Jose, but I think we have to focus on ourselves and when we do that we get results,” said RSL 'keeper Nick Rimando.

Dallas has scored 20 goals during its nine-game unbeaten streak, and at least two goals in seven of those matches. Rimando said slowing that attack is all about playing smart in brutal Texas summer heat.

“We’ve got to be aware of the counterattack for sure. They have some fast guys, dangerous guys up top. If we do lose the ball in bad positions they can punish us,” said Rimando. “We need to make sure we’re good with the ball and compact and well-organized because the heat’s going to be a factor as well.”

Last July, Real Salt Lake persevered through that heat to earn its first-ever victory in Texas with the 3-0 triumph over Dallas.

Midfielder Javier Morales notched a goal and assist in that victory, but he’s doubtful for this year’s return visit because of a hip injury he picked up against D.C. United two weeks ago.

Assuming he doesn’t play, Gil should get the start at the top of the diamond midfield again for Real Salt Lake. He was instrumental in last week’s win over Seattle, setting up what proved to be the game-winning goal on his pass to Luke Mulholland in the 57th minute.

It’s been an up-and-down season for Gil, who missed over a month earlier this year because of a leg injury. It’s taken him a long time to settle back in to midseason form, but he’s finally confident again.

“I feel good now. It’s more of a learning thing for me this year. I’ve never really had an injury like that. I’ve had a knock here or there that would keep me out for a weekend,” said Gil. “Just the frustration getting back into the rhythm. It’s difficult grinding it out in practice knowing your touch isn’t there yet and you just don’t feel 100 percent.”

Only three points separate second-place RSL and third-place FC Dallas in the standings, and the jockeying for playoff position is only going to get more interesting in the coming weeks. After Friday’s match, the clubs meet again at Rio Tinto Stadium on Sept. 6.

In an earlier meeting at Rio Tinto Stadium back on May 24, the teams played to a 0-0 draw.

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