Neither team made the playoffs last season, but D.C. United and Toronto FC are showing that it could be a different story in 2009.
The top two clubs in the Eastern Conference will meet Saturday night at RFK Stadium as United puts its four-game unbeaten streak in league play on the line.
D.C. (3-1-4) leads Toronto (3-2-3) by one point in what has so far been a tightly-packed East. Both clubs failed to reach the postseason in 2008, and expectations weren't very high entering 2009.
"I don't really look at the (standings) at this time of the season," Toronto midfielder Carl Robinson said. "Because everyone beats everyone. I think we're seeing that."
With defending MLS Cup champion Columbus and perennial Eastern power New England both struggling, D.C. and Toronto have emerged as contenders. United took over the top spot in the East with a 1-all tie at Kansas City on Wednesday.
Rodney Wallace gave United the lead in the 27th minute as they improved to 2-0-2 in their last four games.
"Our mentality is pretty good," D.C. coach Tom Soehn said. "We're in the mindset that we're not going to lose games. You'd like to win, but we'll take a tie on the road."
Because his club was beginning a stretch of two games in four days, Soehn did not start former league MVPs Luciano Emilio and Christian Gomez. Both players entered in the second half, and could be back in the starting lineup Saturday.
United used three rookies in its lineup Wednesday, including Wallace -- a first-round draft choice from Maryland. In addition, defender Avery John made his D.C. debut after being acquired from New England last month.
"A tie is not a bad result," D.C. midfielder Clyde Simms said. "We can go into Saturday with some confidence."
D.C. is 5-1 all-time against Toronto, including a 3-0 mark at home. Emilio scored a total of three goals in two wins at RFK Stadium for United in last season's series.
Toronto is 2-0-1 in its last three games overall after a 1-all tie with Columbus last Saturday. Chad Barrett scored the equalizer on a header in the 64th minute.
The unbeaten run has come since April 25, when coach John Carver resigned and Chris Cummins took over on an interim basis. Cummins was not happy with last week's effort.
"We were still trying to play tippy-tappy football in the wrong areas," Cummins said. "We tried to slide balls though and they were running off the pitch. We didn't play the conditions very well."
Barrett scored for the second time in four games. He is one behind midfielder Amado Guevara, who has the team lead with three goals.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press