After all D.C. United endured the last half of August -- the losses, the own goals, the red cards, the injury-time errors -- the club finds itself sitting in a comfortable position heading into the final stage of the MLS regular season.
In the aftermath of a 5-1 rout of Real Salt Lake on Wednesday, United (12-8-5) is tied for the third-most points in the 12-team league. It leads MLS in goals and shutouts, has yielded the third-fewest goals, employs the top scorer (Jaime Moreno) and two of the most dangerous set-up men (Moreno and Christian Gomez).
Now, however, United must prepare for difficult road matches against playoff-bound Western Conference opponents: Colorado tonight and Dallas next weekend.
"It's going to be good for us, for our confidence and our belief," Moreno said about Wednesday's victory. "We just had a bad little three games and now we're back on track. We always try to maintain the same level to keep winning and now, with this win, I think it's going to be great."
United is 4-4-4 on the road after going a combined 11-49-14 the previous five years. Last weekend it should have escaped New England with a win or tie after taking the lead in the first half, but an own goal and a late letdown resulted in a 2-1 loss to the East-leading Revolution.
United will have a difficult time overtaking New England (13-5-6) in the conference race -- especially since the Revolution holds the tiebreaker after winning the season series 3-1 -- but D.C. now has an opportunity to solidify the second slot.
"Lately we've played well on the road," defender Brandon Prideaux said, "so there's no reason why we can't go and get points."
Although United didn't have any red cards Wednesday, its propensity for suspension continued. Midfielder Josh Gros received another yellow card, pushing him over the disciplinary limit and resulting in a one-game penalty. His starting job tonight will likely be filled by Dema Kovalenko, who is returning from his own suspension after getting ejected against New England.
Defender Bryan Namoff, a surprise starter on the right side of midfield Wednesday, is expected to start there again tonight.
"Bryan played very well," Coach Peter Nowak said. "He opened the whole side for [Freddy Adu's goal that made it 2-0] with the overlapping runs."
Besides Gros, United will be without forward Santino Quaranta, who is with the U.S. national team for a pair of World Cup qualifying matches. For the same reason, Colorado is missing forward Jeff Cunningham, whose 11 goals place him one behind Moreno in the MLS race, and defensive midfielder Pablo Mastroeni.
The Rapids are 4-1-2 in their last seven games, the only loss coming to Western Conference leader San Jose, to put themselves in comfortable position of reaching the playoffs and perhaps challenging Los Angeles for third place.
United Notes: Moreno received his green card from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and will no longer count against the club's senior foreign player limit of four. Only Gomez has senior international status, leaving three slots open.