Heparan sulfate (HS)/heparin and dermatan sulfate (DS) both bind with high affinity to hepatocyte growth factor/scatter factor (HGF/SF) and function as necessary co-factors in vitro. How both these two structurally distinct glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) are recognized has remained unclear. We have now reconciled this issue using a panel of minimal tri- and tetrasaccharide sequences of variable but well defined sulfation patterns in combination with further development of the gel mobility shift assay to allow simultaneous comparisons of relative protein affinities/selectivities for different oligosaccharides. From this approach it would seem that a minimum binding sequence is a disulfated trisaccharide comprised of an internal iduronate flanked by monosulfated hexosamine residues and that additional sulfation further enhances affinity. However, the similarity in recognition of HS/heparin and DS seems to arise primarily from a lack of any apparent positional requirement for sulfation. Thus, isomers of HS/heparin tetrasaccharides containing only two sulfates irrespective of whether they are purely N-, 2-O-, or 6-O-sulfates bind with equivalent apparent affinity as a disulfated DS tetrasaccharide. In addition, the NMR chemical shifts induced in NK1 (the truncated variant of HGF/SF comprised of the N- terminal and first Kringle domains) by titration with either heparin or DS oligosaccharides strongly indicate that both bind to essentially the same site. Together, these observations reveal an unexpected degree of flexibility in the GAG-HGF/SF interface, allowing a single binding site in the protein to accommodate iduronate-containing sequences of variable sulfation pattern and/or density from different GAGs.