BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) – The Philadelphia Union haven't played an MLS home game in more than a month, but they managed to come away from a three-game road swing with five points.
It may have been a loss, though, that has their confidence surging coming out of the All-Star break.
A strong showing against Real Madrid has the Union feeling good about themselves, and they'll try to take over first place in the Eastern Conference with Friday night's visit from the Colorado Rapids.
Philadelphia (8-4-7) is tied atop the East with Columbus thanks largely to an undefeated record at PPL Park, but it put together an impressive stretch on the road going into the break. After draws at D.C. and San Jose to begin July, the Union won 3-0 at New England on July 17 - giving them a five-game unbeaten streak.
None of those results, however, provided the level of confidence that their next two matches did. Philadelphia beat Everton of the English Premier League 1-0 on July 20, then played well in a 2-1 loss to world power Real Madrid last Saturday.
"I think we gained some respect against Real Madrid," midfielder Justin Mapp told the Union's official website. "I think we walked off that field knowing we played well in the second half.
"Going into the Colorado match and the rest of the MLS schedule, I think we have to feel good. But at the same time, we have to keep working hard because nothing is ever handed to you. We have to earn it."
Philadelphia will face a much different Rapids club than the one it saw July 4 in Commerce City, Colo. Conor Casey, who helped Colorado (7-6-10) secure a 1-all draw in that match, is out for the season after tearing his Achilles' tendon July 16.
The Rapids haven't suffered much offensively without their leading scorer, though. Sanna Nyassi had a hat trick in a 4-1 win over New York on July 20, and Caleb Folan and Kosuke Kimura scored in a 2-all draw with New England on Saturday - though Colorado wasn't too thrilled with that result after the Revolution equalized in the 90th minute.
"Our legs get heavy, and all that, but still there's no excuse. At home, we've got to put it away," Kimura said. "... But there's still not much spark there. We're missing something. Maybe everybody's fatigued and all that, but there's no excuse."
The Rapids could be without midfielder Jamie Smith, who has three goals and three assists, for a fourth straight game as he recovers from a hamstring injury.
Even if Smith can go, Colorado needs to work on shoring up its back line. The club has allowed nine goals in its last three road contests after giving up eight in its first eight away from home.
That hasn't made the Union any less wary of facing the league's defending champion.
"They're a dangerous club," said forward Danny Mwanga, who has two goals in two games against the Rapids. "We have to come prepared to play at the top of our game every night. It doesn't matter who we play. We have to execute."