After working its way back into sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference, D.C. United enters one of the toughest stretches of its season.
The team now must deal with a string of three road games against some of the hottest teams in the league following its convincing win Saturday over the Chicago Fire at RFK Stadium.
United meets the expansion Seattle Sounders FC on Wednesday and the Colorado Rapids three days later. United then returns home to prepare for a trip to the Columbus Crew on July 4.
"Obviously, it's a relief to finish off a game and be in first place, but it's short-lived," United coach Tom Soehn said. "Now we turn around and go back to work. The sign of a good team is the ability to go and perform on the road."
Seattle has surprised in its first season behind a passionate home crowd, while Colorado is unbeaten in six games. Columbus, meanwhile, hasn't lost in nine outings and boasts the league's leading scorer and reigning MVP in midfielder Guillermo Barros Schelotto.
This will be United's first trip to the expansion Sounders, but five members on the current roster have visited Qwest Field previously. United met Spanish power Real Madrid at the venue in a 2006 friendly, though grass was placed on top of the artificial turf for that contest.
"The win against Chicago takes a little pressure off us going into this road trip and gives us the momentum we need," defender Clyde Simms said. "We are in first place and want to stay there. Some of us have played a game at Qwest Field before, but that was on grass."
Led by former Arsenal ace Freddie Ljungberg (two goals, three assists) and Colombian striker Fredy Montero (five goals, three assists), the Sounders are coming off a 2-1 win over San Jose. Seattle is 4-1-2 at home, while United has a 1-2-3 record on the road, with its lone win coming against last-place New York.
United travels west without forward Jaime Moreno, who will miss two games with a hamstring injury. Moreno is tied with Luciano Emilio for the team lead in goals with five. Midfielder Ben Olsen, who has played just seven minutes in the last six games because of a hamstring problem, did make the trip.
"You want to play against the best teams, and Seattle is one of the best in the [Western Conference]," United midfielder Santino Quaranta said.
In goal for the Sounders is 39-year-old Kasey Keller, who joined the club after a successful career overseas. Keller is in good form with four shutouts and is backed up by MLS' second-best defense, which has surrendered just 11 goals in 13 matches.
"It's going to be a tough game," United's Chris Pontius said. "We'll be playing in front of 30,000, and that won't be easy."
The artificial surface doesn't bother the rookie.
"I played on turf all through college [at UC Santa Barbara], so I have no problem," he said.