Despite Sunday's upset victory against a streaking D.C. United squad, Union coach Jim Curtin understands that his team has miles to go but also hopes it brings some confidence for the journey.
"We know we've dug a deep hole, and we have to fight our way out of it," Curtin said in his weekly news conference. "But I do think there is a little bit of life in the group. After you win there's always more confidence, and confidence is the key right now."
Zach Pfeffer's game-winner in stoppage time last week gave the Union a 1-0 win and snapped United's eight-game winning streak.
"I think that's the biggest thing, I would say, is we have a lot of very good players that haven't been confident for the first stretch of games," Curtin continued.
One importance piece will be absent, however, when the Union travel to take on the Eastern Conference rival New York Red Bulls on Sunday.
Per league rules, midfielder Maurice Edu, who received his fifth yellow card in Sunday's final minutes against D.C., must serve a mandatory one-game suspension.
" 'Mo' will be missed, not only for his on-the-field [presence], but his off-the-field [presence]," Curtin said. "He's become a real leader in the locker room. He's always been able to do it on the field because that came natural to him. He's a good player and a good athlete, but some of the hardest things [are] to lead in times you're losing, and he's been really good with that."
Against the high-pressure style of the third-place Red Bulls (4-1-5), the eighth-place Union (2-7-3) must find that leadership elsewhere.
"We don't want to just be under attack all game," forward Conor Casey said, "so I think it's going to be critical for everybody that when we have the ball we're able to knock it around a little bit and hold it and give us a chance to catch our breath, especially the guys in the back."
Casey, who signed with the club in 2013, earned his first start of the season against D.C. United and had a goal disallowed in the 17th minute after he first guided the ball down with his hand. Casey had another point-blank attempt saved just before halftime by goalkeeper Bill Hamid.
"I had an opportunity this weekend, but unfortunately I wasn't able to put it in," he said. "Yeah, it's definitely on my mind. As a goal scorer you want to score; winning is the most important thing, but I want to score goals for sure."
Against the Red Bulls - tied with Vancouver for sixth in goals scored with 14 - keeping pace on the road could be of paramount importance.
"It's tough to win on the road in this league, and they're a big rival," said Curtin, who grew up in Oreland and starred at Villanova. "We have to go there and actually get a result."