NYCFC face new, yet familiar D.C. United squad

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by CHRISTIAN ARAOS

D.C. United’s additions turned their season around but they will host the only team to beat them since the end of July at RFK this Sunday.

D.C. can clinch a playoff berth with a win and have a shot at passing the Montreal Impact for fourth place, allowing them to host the Wildcard game. New York City FC stand in their way. NYCFC are tied with the New York Red Bulls atop the Eastern Conference but trail the Red Bulls on goal difference. City could clinch a bye into the Conference Semifinals with a win and a Toronto FC loss or draw.

“I think it’s a team who have a lot of confidence at the moment with the way they’ve played,” head coach Patrick Vieira said. “The fact that they won a lot of games lately, their confidence is really high.”

D.C United enter Sunday’s match riding a three-game winning streak and are unbeaten in their last five matches. Always organized in defense with their midfield and defense well-spaced behind the ball, D.C. now have a potent attack led by former NYCFC forward Patrick Mullins. Mullins has seven goals in 13 appearances since City traded him on July 20.

Mullins was traded for general and targeted allocation money and the international slot used to add Maxime Chanot to the roster. Chanot is back in training after suffering a herniated disk last month and is in contention to make his first appearance since Sept. 1. Steven Mendoza also resumed training this week after being sidelined by a hamstring injury.

If Mendoza is unable to start, Khiry Shelton will likely start at right wing. Shelton came off the bench to provide two assists in 11 minutes to give City a comeback win the last time the two teams met at Yankee Stadium. In the teams’ first meeting last May, Shelton scored a goal and an assist in a 2–0 win for New York City.

“You know they’ve always been a strong team,” Shelton said. “They were able to pick up some more pieces to that puzzle and they’ve got it figured it out now. They have a squad that’s been really doing well for them. We know going into the game what to expect. We know what they’re going to give us and we have to be able to deal with it and give it back.”

For United, defender Steve Birnbaum will be available after needing stitches for a cut suffered in the US Men’s National Team’s friendly with Cuba. Midfielder Marcelo Sarvas and defender Sean Franklin are out injured. Defender Kofi Opare is questionable.

All Eastern Conference matches this Sunday will kickoff at 3:15 p.m.