D.C. United is so close to the MLS playoffs, it almost feels like the job is done. However, as we talked about yesterday, there are scenarios that would see them eliminated despite having lost just once in the last twelve games. Today, in their final regular season home game, United needs to maintain momentum against New York City FC, the team that handed them their last loss.
United would seal their playoff spot with a win today, but that won’t come easy. NYCFC has the best road record in MLS thanks in part to a unique approach to games away from home. Liberated from the restrictive field dimensions at Yankee Stadium and convinced by head coach Patrick Vieira that their system is the same no matter the venue, NYCFC is ready to attack and will feel right at home if the game is wide open. United will have to carry on with their recent goalscoring success at RFK while balancing the need to shut down the highest-scoring team in the league.
Key player: Patrick Mullins
It’s tempting to cite the defenders that will have to contend with David Villa, or the midfielders who have to pressure Andrea Pirlo. However, more than anything else, United probably needs a big game from the former NYCFC man on their roster. Mullins has been a great acquisition, but he’s quietly drifted away from the elite goalscoring numbers he posted immediately after moving south. Two goals in six games (both in the win over Orlando) is hardly a problematic situation, but Mullins had five goals in his first seven appearances in United colors.
NYCFC is, despite their record, not a good defensive team. It’s not really much of a priority for them, if we’re honest. Patrick Vieira wants his team to attack home and away, and that means United is going to get plenty of scoring chances. They won’t all fall to Mullins, but the Black-and-Red’s chances of a win go up quite a bit if he buries one (or two).
Even with the reduced goalscoring output, one thing Mullins has been able to deliver every week is good play on the defensive side. United relies on their lone striker to lead their pressure, and NYCFC’s willingness to play out of the back verges on reckless (particularly with goalkeeper Josh Saunders being willing but not necessarily able to take multiple touches). Breaking up NYCFC’s possession game early derails everything they’re about.
Location: Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 3:00pm Eastern
Available TV: ABC 7 (WJLA) and regional affiliates (check the link for the over-the-air alternate channel in your area), and the YES Network
Available streaming: MLS Live for those outside the blackout radius
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
Our gamethread will be posted one hour before kickoff.