If the Chicago Fire are to move into playoff position, they must end their current road struggles by beating a D.C. United club coming off its biggest triumph in a mostly miserable year.
The Fire look to end a four-match road winless stretch by sweeping the league season series from lowly United on Friday night.
Though Chicago (11-12-7) went 1-2-3 in September and sits eighth in the Eastern Conference, a victory Friday would put the club one point ahead of Philadelphia for the fifth and final playoff spot.
"It's disappointing because we've had many chances to climb up the ladder but we haven't been able to take advantage," defender Gonzalo Segares told the team's official website.
"We're still alive and we're going to keep fighting until the last game."
The Fire have been outscored 8-2 during the current 0-3-1 road skid, and three of their four remaining matches are away from home.
However, their latest frustrating result came at home, settling for a 2-2 draw with Montreal on Saturday after giving up a goal in the 87th minute. Mike Magee's two goals in a 16-minute span of the second half had given Chicago a 2-1 lead.
"There's not enough time to cry or feel bad for ourselves," said Magee, who has 12 goals in 18 league matches since Chicago acquired him from Los Angeles on May 24.
"We have four games left and we're going to make the playoffs."
Magee had a goal against United (3-21-6) in his Fire debut, a 2-0 home win June 2, and added another in a 4-1 home victory over D.C. on July 20.
Despite that success against a United squad that has an MLS-low 15 points and is the only team without a league road win, Chicago lost 2-0 at home to D.C. in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals on Aug. 7.
United's silver lining to an otherwise dismal season came with Tuesday's 1-0 victory at Real Salt Lake in the Cup final.
"We have that faith in ourselves that we can go and get a result anywhere we want," goalkeeper Bill Hamid said. "As long as you believe, and continue that mentality, you can do it."
D.C. totaled nine goals while going 4-0-1 in U.S. Open Cup play, but has been outscored 16-7 during its current 0-6-2 league slide.
"It's not been (a) good enough (season) from top to bottom," midfielder Lewis Neal told United's official website. "For some reason we have seemed to play really well in all of the Cup games."
Though D.C. has scored six times during its current 1-0-2 home stretch, it remains to be seen if regulars like Dwayne De Rosario, Chris Pontius and John Thorrington will take the pitch with nothing left to play for on the MLS schedule. Prior to the Cup final, United dressed 16 players and rested most of their major contributors during Saturday's 4-1 loss at Toronto FC.
"I think you have to just assume they're going to be confident after winning the biggest game of the year," Fire midfielder Jeff Larentowicz said. "They have that taste for winning and feeling good again. Teams realize to feel that way you have to win games and they'll probably want to do that again. That's what our assumption has to be going into Friday."
De Rosario has three goals in his last four matches overall versus Chicago, which hasn't swept a season series from D.C. in league play since winning both meetings in 2001.