D.C. United's trip to play San Juan Jabloteh in Trinidad and Tobago is not only a chance to earn its first win in the CONCACAF Champions League, it's also a homecoming for two of United's defenders.
"My mouth is watering right now thinking about the food," said Julius James, who along with teammate Avery John was born on the Caribbean island that sits off the coast of Venezuela.
United, which was greeted by James' parents at the airport in Trinidad on Sunday, will attempt to get its first group-play win in the event on its ninth attempt. United went 0-5-1 last year in the Champions League and is 0-2 in group play this year.
"Going back home, everybody knows about D.C. United," John said. "It's not like a no-name club, so I'm really looking forward to it."
John, a 34-year-old former American University standout, has received 65 caps with the Trinidad and Tobago national team - nicknamed the Soca Warriors - since 1996. He helped the team qualify for the World Cup finals for the first time in 2006, when John received the first red card of the tournament in a match against Sweden.
James, 25, has received just three caps with the Soca Warriors since 2008. The defender expects a tough match Tuesday.
"It's going to be really competitive because we are going into Trinidad," James said. "We just have go in there and get the job done and be disciplined. You'll definitely see a good game."
After losses to Honduran club C.D. Marathon and Mexican side Toluca, United sits at the bottom of Group B with zero points below the winless Jabloteh, which has conceded fewer goals.
On paper, Jabloteh appears to be the weakest team in the group, and United will be looking for all three points on its first trip to Trinidad.
While United remains focused on winning an MLS playoff spot, coach Tom Soehn said he has not given up hope of advancing in the Champions League, an event that involves the top clubs from North and Central America and the Caribbean.
A win over Jabloteh and a victory over Marathon at RFK Stadium on Sept. 24 could revive United's chances. The club does not have another MLS match until San Jose visits RFK on Sept. 27.
"We are still positioned well," Soehn said.
Six of United's regular players did not travel with the team. Santino Quaranta (quadriceps) and Fred (calf) are injured, while Bryan Namoff, Jaime Moreno, Ben Olsen and Josh Wicks are all being rested. Eighteen-year-old goalie Bill Hamid, who was recently signed to the senior squad from the youth academy, traveled with the club.
Jabloteh is Trinidad's most successful team, having won four TT Pro League titles. The club plays at the 27,000-seat Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port-of-Spain.
"It's a young team," John said. "At the end of the day, it's a home game for them, so we have to respect them because they made it this far in the competition, so it's not going to be an easy game."
Added James: "As with any Caribbean team, they have a lot of skillful players, athleticism and speed."