Just as the last half-mile of an endurance race is the most grueling part as sheer will power carries a runner home, so are the final weeks of the Major League Soccer season.
Real Salt Lake has led the MLS standings, aside from a few hours, for several months now and with just six regular season matches remaining, the finish line is coming into view.
In order to get there out in front, however, the Claret-and-Cobalt are going to have fight like mad.
The final stretch begins tonight at 8 p.m. at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, where RSL will take on the red-hot Sounders in a crucial top-of-the-table clash.
Real currently has 48 points (14-8-6), while Seattle has 46 (14-8-4) and has played two fewer matches than the Utah side. A win tonight by the Sounders would propel the Washington side into the Supporter's Shield lead for the first time this season, and give Seattle the potential to push it out to a seven-point lead should it take full advantage of its matches in hand.
On the flip side, a Salt Lake win pushes Real back to a five-point advantage and nearly negates any potential movement by the Sounders from those potential points.
That makes tonight a true 'six-pointer' in terms of table position, both for the Shield and for the No. 1 MLS Cup playoff position in the Western Conference.
Seattle comes into the match with a 7-1-0 mark in its last eight outings, making it clearly the hottest team in the league at the moment. The Sounders defeated Chivas and Chicago last week while Real was idle, turning an eight-point gap into just two and setting up tonight's top-of-the-table showdown.
It will be the 12th meeting between the two teams since the start of the 2011 season, with RSL and the Sounders having faced each other in the postseason for back-to-back seasons. Salt Lake is 5-3-3 during those 11 matches, including taking wins in both matches earlier this season at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Seeking to draw the most from their strong fan support at CenturyLink, Seattle has opened up the entire stadium for Friday's clash.
The team usually limits home attendance to just below 40,000, but announced that all 67,000 seats will be available against RSL.
GAME NOTES: Both teams will also welcome back a pair of U.S. Men's National Team players after the American side qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with a 2-0 win over Mexico on Tuesday.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman -- who played all 90 minutes against Mexico -- and goalkeeper Nick Rimando, neither of whom missed RSL duty with the national team, will rejoin Real, while midfielder Clint Dempsey and forward Eddie Johnson, who played 90 and 75 minutes, respectively, against El Tri, will rejoin Seattle tonight.