Most people can agree that this year's 5-4-3 Union team is better than last year's 10-18-6 edition.

So just improving on last year won't be enough. This is a team with the potential to earn one of Major League Soccer's five Eastern Conference playoff spots, and anything less should be considered disappointing.

With 23 games remaining, the Union hold the fifth and final playoff spot in the East. But it's way too early for scoreboard watching.

Still, the Union are 3-2-1 on the road. That matches the win total away from PPL Park from last year, when the Union were 3-10-4.

So the team has more confidence on the road this year, and it will be needed along with their passports during the next two weeks of MLS games that feature a trek to Canada.

On Saturday, the Union visit the talented Montreal Impact (6-2-2 and 4-0-1 at home). Montreal and FC Dallas are the only teams that haven't lost at home this season.

On June 1, the Union visit Toronto FC, which is 1-6-4 but tied the Union, 1-1, earlier this season at PPL Park.

Most would figure the Union would do well to split in Canada, but there is one other goal the Union are looking at as they seek to show they are at the next level - beating a quality team on the road.

None of the Union's three road wins - against Colorado, D.C United, and Chicago - is over a team with a winning record. It should be noted, however, that Colorado is 4-4-4 and figures to contend for a playoff spot in the loaded Western Conference.

Team manager John Hackworth has talked all season about the challenges of winning on the road, and his message has been that any victory away from home is big in MLS.

After playing three games in eight days and winning two (both over the 2-7-1 Chicago Fire), the Union will have had a week off heading to Montreal.

And on Wednesday, assistant coach Rob Vartughian said that central defender Jeff Parke, who missed the previous three games with a hamstring injury, is 100 percent healthy.

Parke was replaced by defender Bakary Soumare, who was never in the Union's long-range plans. So it was no surprise that the Union dealt Soumare back to Chicago for allocation money and a 2014 second-round draft pick.

Earning $350,000, Soumare never fit into the Union's future plans. What he did do was give the team depth on defense.

The Union have traded two defenders who started in their 1-0 win at Chicago on May 11. The other, Gabe Farfan, has since been dealt to Chivas USA.

So the frontline defense remains solid, but now there is little depth.

What is known is that against an Impact team that has scored as many goals as the Union (15) in two fewer games, the defense will have to be strong.

To a man, the Union insist they are confident when they hit the road. Even saying that, the confidence would reach another level if they can get a win against one of the Eastern Conference's top teams, one that is stingy while playing in its own backyard.

Contact Marc Narducci at mnarducci@phillynews.com. Follow @sjnard on Twitter.