New York City FC heads down I-95 this weekend for a clash with DC United. Both teams sport identical 2-3-4 records on the season. However, both of United's victories this season have come at RFK -- and they have been dominant victories. The Black & Red beat New England 3-0 and Vancouver 4-0.
Speaking of Vancouver -- those same Whitecaps obligingly lost to the Blues last Saturday, giving NYCFC their first home victory of the season. That victory -- a nervy 3-2 win that saw captain David Villa score twice within minutes in the first half -- snapped a frustrating, enervating seven-game winless streak that threatened to sink the team's season before it barely began. With that win under their belts, manager Patrick Vieira oversaw a much more cheerful set of practice sessions leading up to this weekend's game.
"Winning at home gives us a really massive boost because we were getting anxious," Vieira said in an interview with the team's website. "This week was a hard week where we work well, like other weeks, but the camp was more a happy camp because that's what the win does for the team and the group...It was a happy week."
Beating the Whitecaps left New York City tied on points with DC United and Orlando City. All three teams have 10 points, and are separated only by goal differential. If NYCFC means to solidify their position in the conference, they need to start racking up wins, not just draws.
Central to that task: getting someone to share the scoring load with David Villa. Villa's brace against Vancouver was his third of the season. He had a brace March 13 against Toronto FC in a 2-2 home draw, and repeated the feat two weeks ago against Columbus. It was Villa's seventh multiple-goal game in his MLS career, in 39 career league appearances.
What's worrying is that Villa has scored six of NYCFC's last nine goals. If the Blues are going to improve on last year's performance, they need for other players to start scoring goals as well. With Andrea Pirlo laboring away in midfield, having to play defense instead of just creating -- and with DP bust Frank Lampard no closer to taking the field -- that responsibility rests on players like Steven Mendoza, Khiry Shelton, and Patrick Mullins.
DC United and New York City met twice last season. The Blues rocked United 3-1 at home in August, with Tommy McNamara leading the comeback in the 51st minute, before Kwadwo Poku iced the win in the 88th. However, United had the last laugh when NYCFC visited RFK in October. An early Lampard goal wasn't enough to carry them to victory, as they surrendered an equalizer in the 73rd minute and the winner in stoppage time.
Allen Chapman will be the lead official for Sunday's game, which will be televised on Fox Sports 1 nationally. Right back RJ Allen will miss the game with a lateral ankle sprain. Draftee Jack Harrison and Lampard are both questionable; each trained individually in training this week, though Lampard's appearance was the briefest of cameos.
For those of you hoping to see Eirik Johansen get a run out this week, you can stop. Vieira backed gaffe-prone goalkeeper Josh Saunders strongly this week, both after the game and during practice. Despite having worked with Johansen extensively at EDS and the preseason, Vieira still feels Saunders is a better option.
I've got Iraola starting at right back instead of Ethan White. White is basically a reserve player at this point; starting him over Iraola doesn't make too much sense, given White's mediocre-at-best performances thus far. In the midfield, I have Diskerud getting the start; he's missed the last couple of games on the bench, for reasons unknown.
Finally, I've got McNamara continuing his series of starts at left wing, where he looks comfortable. Steven Mendoza probably gets the start at right wing after scoring his first MLS goa to give New York City the win last Saturday.