The finish line of a seemingly endless Major League Soccer regular season is finally in sight for the Union, and for now they have to enjoy the view.
They have played 31 games with three remaining, and although they haven't clinched one of the 10 MLS playoff berths yet, the Union would have to royally mess up to be left out of the postseason.
That final three-game charge begins Saturday in Seattle, the second long flight in a week after Sunday's 1-1 draw with Chivas USA in Carson, Calif. Then there is Oct. 15, the final regular-season home game with Toronto, and the season finale Oct. 20 at the less-than-loved New York Red Bulls in Harrison, N.J.
In their second season, the Union are 10-7-14, and it appears the players realize the finish line is near. Certainly team manager Peter Nowak does.
"The door is open and we have to make one necessary step to walk though," Nowak said during Wednesday's weekly news conference.
Actually, this time of year some teams are limping their way through that door, and the Union are no different. Goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon, out since breaking a finger Sept. 3, has begun training this week, but it's uncertain whether he will play.
Backup Zac MacMath, who is 2-0-4 as a starter replacing Mondragon, hurt his ankle against Chivas USA and is questionable. Recently signed keeper Chase Harrison is healthy, but his next MLS game will be his first. A team official said more would be known about the keepers' status Friday, before the team departs for Seattle.
No matter how it plays out, the Union are guaranteed to field a lineup, while competing against a Seattle team that has already clinched a playoff berth and still has an outside shot at the best record in the league.
Since a 3-2 win Sept. 29 against another playoff pursuer, D.C. United, the Union players said that each game, including that one, takes on a different feel.
Two players who know about the long grind in chasing that coveted MLS Cup are midfielder Brian Carroll and defender Danny Califf.
Carroll won the title in 2004 for D.C. United (and a coach named Peter Nowak) and again in 2008 with Columbus. Califf was a key performer on the Los Angeles Galaxy's 2002 MLS Cup squad.
"You will feel a palpable difference in the locker room," Califf said.
The difference extends to the field.
"As you get toward the end of the year and are battling for position, it takes on the type of intensity that you will see in the postseason," Carroll said. "We need to stay composed, play smart, and be extra-focused."
It helps to have veterans such as Califf and Carroll to lean on. And it's not just their wisdom that has benefited the Union. Both have played extremely well, two veterans who have clearly set a good example.
Even veterans can get anxious this time of year. That's what seeing the finish line can do in a long, exhausting season.
Right now there is so much excitement around the team, and rightfully so. The finish line for one season is near, and the beginning of the second season is within reach.