D.C. United must win to keep their playoff hopes alive when they host New York City FC in the club’s early-arriving regular-season finale Saturday night.
With 29 teams in MLS this season, D.C. United (9-14-10, 37 points) are the lone club that will not take part in an otherwise full slate of decision-day matchups Oct. 21 to complete the regular season.
D.C. United enter the weekend a point out of the ninth and final Eastern Conference playoff place — and the same margin behind 10th-place NYCFC, who are currently out of the playoff field but do have an extra match remaining.
D.C. knew the stakes on Wednesday, with its dwindling slate of games, and yet still delivered one of its worst performances of the season in a 3-0 defeat at Austin FC.
That extended D.C.’s winless run to six matches, even with leading scorer Christian Benteke scoring four goals in his last three games to give him 14 on the season.
“We had opportunities to seize more points this last stretch and haven’t done it,” D.C. United defender Steven Birnbaum said, according to the Washington Post. “We’ve been lucky to be in position where we are right now — well, where we were before this game. We knew the importance of this game.”
NYCFC (8-10-14, 38 points) are unbeaten in their last six games and were only a few minutes away from a third consecutive win by shutout when Miami’s Tomas Aviles scored a stoppage-time equalizer in a 1-1 draw last Saturday.
NYCFC have the advantage of a full week of rest and two final matches against teams they are battling for postseason position.
After Saturday, NYCFC will close the season at home against the eighth-place Chicago Fire, currently the eighth-place team in the East.
If NYCFC can reach the playoffs, they will be one of the few teams to do so without a double-digit scorer. Gabriel Pereira leads the club with six goals and Santiago Rodriguez scored his fifth against Miami. Eight players have two or more goals.
“I think one thing I’ve been really pleased and proud about is how this team has embraced the challenge,” NYCFC coach Nick Cushing said. “Six games ago, we were in a worse position than we are now and we gave ourselves a real chance by winning football games and by making sure that we pick up points.”