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First half outburst sends D.C. United to playoffs with 3-1 win over NYCFC

First half goals from Mullins, Boswell, and Vincent guarantee United’s playoff spot

D.C. United came into the penultimate game of the MLS season just needing one win to secure their 2016 goal of making the playoffs. In front of the biggest home crowd of the season, the Black-and-Red took care of business against New York City FC, ringing up three goals in the first half to secure a 3-1 win. The victory confirmed United’s playoff participation, but their final seeding will not be determined until next week, when they head to Florida to take on Orlando City SC.

Neither side had done much to threaten before Patrick Mullins opened the scoring in the 27th minute. Bobby Boswell headed home from a corner in the 31st minute, and Rob Vincent took advantage of a City horror show to score his second of the season in first half stoppage time. David Villa made a game of it in the second half with a goal in the 71st minute from the penalty spot, but the Black-and-Red were able to see the game out from there for their first win in three tries against City in 2016.

Head coach Ben Olsen made three changes to the side that beat Toronto FC 2-1 fifteen days ago, with Taylor Kemp returning to his left back spot after a toe injury cost him a Canadian trip. Jared Jeffrey was preferred to Julian Buescher in midfield, and Patrick Nyarko retook his spot on the wing from Lamar Neagle.

United had a couple of looks early on to take the lead, but Nyarko couldn’t make the most of a bouncing ball in the the box from a Lloyd Sam corner, and Vincent lashed a thunderbolt from outside the box that was off target.

City’s opening came in the 12th minute, when Khiry Shelton made his way down the right hand side. Finding space, Shelton passed to David Villa in the box, but the striker - who came into the game tied for the MLS Golden Boot - whiffed on his shot. Nick DeLeon, still deputizing at right back, cleared the danger for United.

Mullins came close to the opener in the 16th minute, as he was just missed guiding a volley on target. A cross from Sam on the right found Nyarko at the far post, where the winger headed back towards the middle of the goal. Mullins was there for a shot, but he scooped his falling effort over the bar from six yards out. Bill Hamid reacted sharply to tip over an awkward deflection in the 18th minute, but from there, it was all United to finish off the half.

The Black-and-Red found their opener in the 27th minute, as Mullins was in the right spot to score against his former club. Luciano Acosta’s through ball down the right found Sam, who rolled a low cross into the goalmouth. Nyarko missed getting a touch, but Mullins was all alone at the far post for his 8th goal on the season.

Four minutes later, United were up two, as Boswell scored his second of the season. Nyarko won a corner for United, and Sam’s service was just right for the center back. Boswell bounced his header by Josh Saunders in goal, and United were well on their way to a fourth straight win.

Shelton had a shot saved by Hamid in the 37th minute, and Jeffrey was denied at the other end moments later, as his ferociously dipping half volley smacked the crossbar. Jack Harrison then corralled a cross at the far post, but Hamid was quick to react and close down the shot. From there, calamity at the back gifted United their third goal.

Andoni Iraola was thrown off by the presence of Mullins, as the defensive midfielder tried to play a ball across the field near his own box. Mullins - who had slipped moments before - was possibly surprised by the gift, but was still able to collect the ball before Saunders could get to it. With Saunders out of the picture, Mullins passed back to the top of the box, allowing Vincent to pass the ball into the goal, guiding it past the covering Frederic Brillant to score with moments left in the half.

Mullins missed getting a volley on goal from an Acosta cross early on in the second half, which represented United’s best chance for some time. Despite - or perhaps because of - the three goal advantage, there was plenty of pressure from City in the second half, as they rebounded from their poor opening.

Diego Martinez, who came on as a second half substitute for the injured Ronald Matarrita, put Hamid to the test in the 55th minute with a shot from just outside the box. Martinez collected a pass just outside the top of the box, before uncorking a goal-bound shot. Hamid was at his best, going full stretch to palm the ball out for a corner kick.

Another substitute, Steven Mendoza, put the pressure on United in the 66th minute, forcing a turnover near D.C.’s box. The Colombian, who entered ten minutes earlier for Shelton, quickly took aim at goal once he won possession, but the shot skipped along the ground straight to Hamid, who saved comfortably.

Boswell almost added his second of the game in the 68th minute, as Steve Birnbaum brought a ball down in the box, and played out to his center back partner. Boswell’s shot was parried by Saunders, and then Birnbaum’s follow up attempt was blocked before it reached the keeper.

Tensions were slightly raised in the 71st minute, as Villa won a penalty for City, going down in the box from a challenge by Kemp. Needing to convert to give his side a chance at a point, Villa coolly sent Hamid diving the wrong way to bring NYCFC back within two goals.

The Pigeons kept the pressure up, and on two occasions could have found the second goal to set up a crazy finish. Mendoza broke into the box after latching onto a ball played up from midfield. Holding off a challenge, Mendoza took aim from a tight angle, only for Hamid to push his shot wide.

Villa was then culpable for not making the most of his opportunity in the 81st minute, as he was all alone behind United’s back line. Villa stayed onside on a long ball played forward, and finally caught up to the pass near the top of the box. With the defense just behind him, Villa opted to shoot first time, but it didn’t have enough to beat Hamid, who covered the shot without much fanfare.

Just before departing the game, Mullins had the ball in the back of the net, but was ruled offside. Julian Buescher, who entered the game for Acosta, lifted a ball over the back line into the box for Mullins, who expertly volleyed home, only for the goal to get called back by the assistant referee’s flag.

From there, NYCFC offered little, and 30,943 fans (give or take a couple hundred blue-clad supporters in the upper deck) hailed a statement 3-1 victory.

United, with 46 points from 33 games, heads south next Sunday to take on Orlando City in the final game of the season.