There's more than enough incentive for Real Salt Lake in Sunday night's matchup with FC Dallas.
The teams will meet for the first time since Real Salt Lake's chances at a second straight MLS Cup title ended in last year's playoffs against Dallas, which is seeking to improve to 10-0-0 at home all-time in the series.
Real Salt Lake (5-1-1) fell 3-2 on aggregate to FC Dallas (5-3-2) last season in the conference semifinals after winning its first MLS Cup in 2009. RSL lost 2-0 at Dallas on July 17 in the regular season and 2-1 on Oct. 30 in the first leg of the playoff series.
"We're going down there hopefully with a little chip on our shoulder, and something to prove," coach Jason Kreis told RSL's official website. "We need to improve week by week, right now in our situation."
Dallas has outscored Salt Lake 20-6 in winning all nine matchups at Pizza Hut Park.
"Hopefully there's a little extra motivation for the guys," RSL midfielder Will Johnson said. "I sincerely hope so."
This matchup has lost plenty of luster, with each team missing a major star. Reigning league MVP David Ferreira is sidelined by a broken right ankle for Dallas while RSL is without midfielder Javier Morales, also out long-term with an ankle injury.
"It's a different look, because if you look at Ferreira and his body of work since he's been here, the majority of the good things -- the offensive things for Dallas -- have come through him, and so it is a little bit of a different look," Kreis said. "A little bit of a different tactical shape without him."
Dallas has been more reliant on rookie Fabian Castillo, who has two goals and two assists while starting the last four games since Ferreira went down. The 18-year-old forward's play has caught his team by surprise.
"He is definitely a difference maker for us at this point in time," coach Schellas Hyndman told FC Dallas' official website. "I think what we will see from Fabian is just continued growth in his play."
RSL continues to shine on defense, allowing a league-low two goals this season, but has scored once over its last three contests.
Kreis has shortened training sessions this week because of a grueling schedule that has included four CONCACAF Champions League matches since the start of the season. RSL turned in a scoreless draw with Houston last Saturday at home.
Dallas is 4-0-1 over its last five games after last Saturday's 2-0 home win over Philadelphia. It has outscored opponents 8-1 during a four-game home win streak.
Although Morales is unavailable and RSL is struggling to score, Dallas wants to focus on defense to thwart the visitors' ability to counter-attack.
"Our defense needs to be in the right shape so we can force them wide," defender Moises Hernandez said. "Don't let them get any crosses in, don't let them come inside."