To keep its SuperLiga hopes alive, D.C. United must beat the Houston Dynamo by three goals Saturday at RFK Stadium and hope Atlante FC loses to Guadalajara in the all-Mexican clash in the last game of Group A.
"We let ourselves down in the last two games, and the hill we climb is pretty large," United coach Tom Soehn said. "It can be done. We dug a hole. We know what to do to get out of it - and there is still no guarantee."
In its first two SuperLiga games, United lost to Atlante FC 3-2 on Tuesday after a 2-1 loss to Guadalajara last week.
Winning Saturday's game by three goals isn't impossible. United has won by three goals five times this season at RFK.
"We score a lot of goals at home, and if we play good defense there's always a chance we can get three," defender Marc Burch said.
However, United has never beaten the Dynamo - two-time MLS champions - by three goals in the teams' four previous meetings.
"I hope to score three goals and other players score goals too, and then we can go forward," said Luciano Emilio, who has scored 11 goals in the team's last 10 games in all competitions. "I'm tired, and everyone is tired, but we are professional and we hope to go through."
But should United extend all its efforts and field its best players for a difficult task partly beyond its control or save its resources for Tuesday's game against Houston - an MLS makeup game - which could be far more important?
"You evaluate stretches all the time," Soehn said. "Tuesday is a very important game as well. It's important that we have a side that at least is not exhausted and have some guys that are rested."
A lot will depend on where United stands at halftime of Saturday's match. If United is winning, expect Soehn to go for it. If the team is down, look for him to rest some players.
Said defender Devon McTavish: "It's kind of a chess match on who wants to waste more energy considering we play Tuesday."
Striker Jaime Moreno said he is resting and not starting Saturday's game.
"I'm a little banged up right now," he said. "I'll be on the bench. Hopefully we will score three goals and don't need me to jump on the field."
The eight-team SuperLiga matches the best teams from Mexico with the best in MLS, with the winner receiving a $1 million prize.
United supporters on Internet fan sites say the team should focus more on the regular-season game on Tuesday, which is being replayed after the scheduled June 4 match at RFK was postponed after 16 minutes because of a severe storm.
"The first thing is to advance in the Super Liga, and then we will address Tuesday," goalie Zach Wells said. "I don't think anyone will be conserving energy."
Making matters worse, United is depleted by injuries to starters Marcelo Gallardo, Gonzalo Peralta and Santino Quaranta.
"Possession is going to be a critical factor with all the heat and humidity," defender Bryan Namoff said. "The more we keep the ball, the more we will tire them out."