D.C. United will be looking to cap an incredible second-half surge by clinching a place in the playoffs with a victory over New York City FC on Sunday at Audi Field.
United (13-11-8, 47 points), which was last in the Eastern Conference as recently as mid-August, has won its last four and gone eight matches overall without a loss. And with Wednesday night's 1-0 victory over Toronto FC, decided on Wayne Rooney's ferocious free kick strike, it moved within one win or one loss by the Montreal Impact of clinching at worst the sixth and final playoff spot in the East.
After playing 12 of 14 matches on the road to start the season, then seeing former England and Manchester United star Rooney sign with the club and debut during the July 14 opening of Audi Field, D.C. hasn't had a ton of time to reflect on its impressive climb.
"We just want to keep the train rolling," defender Steve Birnbaum said after Wednesday's victory. "We're in good form right now and we don't want to leave it up in the air for chance. We've got to handle business on Sunday and take Montreal out of it, without having to think about them. We're going to keep playing our game, so we're not really worried about that."
If D.C. does qualify for the postseason for a fifth time under coach Ben Olsen in his eighth full season in charge, it could end up playing the same New York City side it meets Sunday.
But NYCFC (15-9-8, 53 points) has won just once in its last eight games while dropping out of the race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Cityzens currently sit third and can finish no higher, but would guarantee themselves of no worse than the fourth seed in the playoffs with a win or draw in D.C. and a home game in the knockout round.
In a previous match last month when both teams were short-handed because of international call-ups, NYCFC drew D.C. 1-1.
But defender Anton Tinnerholm believes his squad can take some lessons from that game -- in which City outshot D.C. 31-2 -- into Sunday's rematch.
"I thought if we can do the same performance we did at home, we have a good chance to win," Tinnerholm said. "Because we know how to play against them and what they are good at. So we have to stick to our plan."
City will be without midfield playmaker Maxi Moralez for a second consecutive game because of a lower leg injury. United will welcome several call-ups back after playing through the October international match window, and midfielder Paul Arriola is set to return after a two-game absence due to the death of his father.