MLS Countdown: NYCFC and D.C. kick off Conflict Week

Generally speaking, the weekend after Labor Day marks the stretch run of the MLS season, but for this pre-holiday week the FIFA international dates are causing headaches for 16 of 20 teams.

Last week was one of several Rivalry Weeks. This is Conflict Week.

A total of 60 MLS players have been called up by their national teams for World Cup qualifiers and while a few of those teams are lightly affected by callups or don’t play an MLS match, the implications on the playoff races could be significant.

On Thursday at Yankee Stadium New York City FC and D.C. United kick off an eight-game slate over a seven-day period.

Each team has lost just one player to international duty. Ronald Matarrita of NYCFC will be in Haiti with Costa Rica, and United centerback Steve Birnbaum is in the U.S. squad that plays Friday in Kingstown against St. Vincent & The Grenadines.

United chalked up four points last week by rallying for a 1-1 tie in Montreal and then routing Chicago, 6-2, Saturday at RFK. Patrick Mullins bagged a hat trick, the first by a United player in more than two years, and United rang up five goals after a red card dismissed the Fire’s Khaly Thiam.

Mullins has scored five goals in seven games for United since being acquired in a trade with NYCFC on July 20. He netted six goals for NYCFC last year but had seldom played (seven games, two starts) this season and not scored when United swapped him for general allocation money, targeted allocation money, and an international roster slot.

At the same time, United sent Fabian Espindola to Vancouver and the attacking makeover has borne fruit. Before the deals, D.C. had scored just 18 goals in 20 games. Before snuffing the Fire, United had averaged 1.5 goals per game since the trades.

NYCFC doesn’t lack for scoring without Mullins. Its 45 goals are third-best in MLS. Defense has been the issue, and it’s also among the leaders in goals allowed with that same 45. But when Andrea Pirlo starts plays from his customary deep position, NYCFC can rip teams apart. Quickly.

David Villa leads the league and his 16 goals are only two fewer than he bagged last year. Frank Lampard’s nine goals were scored during a 10-game run that coincided with his return to the starting lineup.

The scoring drops off after that, yet the elusive and creative Thomas McNamara has four. (He and Pirlo are tied for the team lead in assists with nine.) Rookie Jack Harrison has bagged three, and so has Steven Mendoza, who marked his comeback after a seven-game injury absence by scoring in a 2-1 loss to Orlando City Sunday.

Thankfully for United, keeper Bill Hamid was not summoned by U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann. He’s often called into action by D.C.’s dodgy defending and has logged just one shutout since late June. He figures to be busy considering Birnbaum is out. United does get back defender Kofi Opare, who sat out a suspension last weekend.

The narrow, funky configuration of the Yankee Stadium field hasn’t fazed NYCFC recently. It has reeled off four straight home wins and by beating United can reclaim first place from Toronto FC. Sixth-place United holds the lowest playoff spot but just barely; Orlando’s win over NYCFC moved it to within one point.

Other games will be more severely affected by callups than this one but both teams are missing a critical piece. It’s just one more aggravating element of MLS.

WEEK 26:
Thursday, September 1
7 pm New York City vs. D.C. United
Saturday, September 3
7 pm Vancouver vs. NY Red Bulls
7:30 pm New England vs. Colorado
8:30 pm Chicago vs. Philadelphia
9 pm FC Dallas vs. Portland
10:30 pm LA Galaxy vs. Columbus
All times ET.

MLS Standings:
43 Toronto FC 12-8-7 39/28
41 New York City 11-8-8 45/45
40 NY Red Bulls 11-9-7 46/35
40 Philadelphia 11-9-7 47/41
37 Montreal 9-7-10 40/38
32 D.C. United 7-8-11 33/33
31 Orlando City 6-7-13 41/44
27 New England 6-12-9 29/47
26 Columbus 5-9-11 34/40
23 Chicago 5-12-8 29/40

48 FC Dallas 13-7-6 42/35
43 Real Salt Lake 12-8-7 39/37
43 Colorado 11-4-10 28/22
40 LA Galaxy 9-4-13 40/26
38 Sporting KC 11-12-5 32/32
35 Portland 9-10-8 41/41
32 San Jose 7-8-11 26/29
31 Seattle 9-13-4 32/36
31 Vancouver 8-12-7 34/43
25 Houston 5-10-10 29/34

Leading Scorers:
16 Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC)
David Villa (New York City)
16 Bradley Wright-Phillips (NY Red Bulls)
14 Ignacio Piatti (Montreal)
13 Cyle Larin (Orlando City)
13 Fanendo Adi (Portland)
12 Dom Dwyer (Sporting KC)
10 Diego Valeri (Portland)
10 Chris Pontius (Philadelphia)
10 Ola Kamara (Columbus)

1 comment about "MLS Countdown: NYCFC and D.C. kick off Conflict Week".
  1. Shaffie Pillay, August 31, 2016 at 10:49 p.m.

    New England Revolution has to fire Heaps asap.
    The last 6 games the team has no cohesion, lacks a plan, cannot make 3 passes, most goals conceded. Jay has no clue. Do us a favor and leave before the cup game.
    What a disgrace the last 4 months have been.
    After 21 years we fans deserve better.
    Maybe Sigi Schmidt can lead us out of this mess.

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