There is no rest for the weary and certainly none for D.C. United in October.
Although the club had a week off due to the international break practice continued with an eye towards Sunday’s match against NYCFC (3PM EST ESPN). A win on Sunday would secure a third consecutive playoff appearance for United.
It was an interesting time for the club to take a week off. After having won their previous three matches (all of which occurred in a week span) one could make the argument that the club really did not need time off. But with the club having played so many games in such a short period of time it does seem like a good time for the side to get rested and get ready for one of the top clubs in Major League Soccer.
“We are resilient. We fear no one. We worry about our game and then we worry about performing. We defend well and we are disciplined in the back,” said United goalkeeper Bill Hamid after the 2-1 win over Toronto FC. “We communicate well on the field and cover each other extremely well. We got a lot of heart. We just got to continue this form and we are going to be okay.”
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That resolve will be tested against NYCFC. Currently in second place in the Eastern Conference standings (14-9-9, 51 points) NYCFC have rebounded after an underwhelming inaugural season.
Under coach Patrick Vieira the side has developed into one of the more potent attacking teams in all of Major League Soccer.
United know this all too well. In their two previous matches this season D.C. have been outmatched by NYCFC losing both matches by a combined score of 5-2.
D.C. showed a little bit more life in the second match, coming back twice at Yankee Stadium to level the score. But Frank Lampard proved to be the ultimate foil notching home a brace to give the Blues the late win.
Much of United’s success, or lack thereof, on Sunday will depend upon the health of Steve Birnbaum. Birnbaum was karate-kicked in the face while on international duty with the United States Men’s National Team in a friendly against Cuba on Friday. United have stated that Birnbaum did not sustain a concussion.
However, he still may be rested as a precautionary measure. The club is already without Sean Franklin (calf injury), Kofi Opare (concussion), and midfielder Marcelo (MCL sprain). If Birnbaum is out expect Jalen Robinson to step in at center-back.
No Birnbaum would be music to the ears of Frank Lampard (12 goals in 2016) and David Villa (21 goals). Although Robinson held his own against the two in their 3-2 loss a month ago in the final 15 minutes it appeared that he was running out of gas. Considering the type of players that he was defending against it is understandable why the Homegrown Player was losing energy late.
Of the two Villa provides the greatest threat on the attack. Although Lampard has been effective at hitting home his chances inside the eighteen yard box it is Villa’s long runs and ability to draw multiple defenders that causes teams the most problems. That in turn opens up space for Lampard and Thomas McNamara to exploit.
On the attack D.C. will look to take advantage of an inexperienced NYCFC side that have allowed 53 goals this season (third highest in the league). In their last match Lloyd Sam and Lamar Neagle were able to split the center and outside backs on their respective sides and create goal-scoring opportunities. Neagle has upped his scoring output in recent weeks, notching three goals in his last two matches.
What will be interesting to see is how both sides choose to use their international players during this match. Both United and NYCFC had key players go back to their respective national teams and given how late it is in the season Olsen and Vieira may opt to use players who have rested for a full week. It is very much speculation at this point but something worth keeping an eye on as the week transpires.
In ownership news D.C. United announced this week that majority owners Erick Thohir and Jason Levien have purchased the remaining shares of the William Chang family. Chang, who also owns the San Francisco Giants, has served as an owner for United since 2007.
In terms of what this means for the club not really much in the interim. Chang has taken a bit of a back seat to Thohir and Levien in recent seasons and hasn’t really been involved with day-to-day decisions for a few seasons. What it does do is centralize power within United just a little bit more ahead of their move to Buzzard Point.
In international duty news: Bill Hamid was called up for the United States Men’s National Team match against New Zealand. He joined Birnbaum and former United midfielder Perry Kitchen in the side. Kitchen played 64 minutes in the 1-1 draw with New Zealand on Tuesday night. Both Birnbaum and Hamid dressed but did not play in the match.