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D.C. United needs Decision Day victory for home field advantage in playoffs

United is treating its regular-season finale Sunday against FC Cincinnati as the club’s first playoff game.

D.C. Untied looks for home playoff game with a win against FC Cincinnati. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Thanks to a late season push, D.C. United controls its destiny going into the 2019 Major League Soccer playoffs. Winning the regular season finale Sunday against FC Cincinnati at Audi Field will secure a home game in the postseason.

“It is going to feel like a playoff game,” defender Steve Birnbaum said of the 4 p.m. ET match.

United won its last four games while keeping clean sheets. They have been solid defensively, but also scored the fourth fewest goals in the league this season.

“If you look at our season, the way that we have won games is to be good defensively,” Birnbaum said. “That is our recipe for success right now.”

The same starting XI carried United through the last three games, but a suspension to captain Wayne Rooney forced coach Ben Olsen to adjust the attack.

The addition of forward Ola Kamara during the secondary transfer window was a response to Rooney deciding not to rejoin the club next season. But Kamara, a Norwegian international, hasn’t seen the field in three games due to a hamstring injury. He trained all week but will likely be used off the bench, Olsen said.

Forward Quincy Amarikwa is the next option to start at forward.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati is eliminated from the playoffs with the worst record in the league. But since the last meeting between United and Cincinnati, the MLS expansion club has adjusted to become a counterattacking team that is dangerous in transition.

“There are no easy games in this league. It’s built that way,” Olsen said. “It is a game where we want to reward our fans with a win and another opportunity — at the minimum — to play here again.”

International break

With the league’s new and condensed playoff schedule, Decision Day falls before the October international break. All 24 teams close the regular season with games at the same time Sunday before a two-week break. The postseason will then be a series of single-elimination games to eventually award an MLS Cup winner. In previous years, an opening knockout round was followed by conference semifinals and finals played as home-and-away series. The international break fell in the middle and MLS Cup wasn’t played until December.

“There is no real perfect solution on this,” Olsen said. “Any way you slice it, you’re going to have to face an international break somewhere. For it to be on the front end, it’s interesting. At least there is real momentum right on through fast and furious games.”

All international players will be available for United against Cincinnati. During the international break, midfielder Paul Arriola joins the United States men’s national team, Lucas Rodriguez joins the U-23 Argentina national team and Junior Moreno joins the Venezuelan national team.

Bolstering the roster

Defender Oniel Fisher injured his knee last September and subsequently missed the rest of the season. He hasn’t seen the field this season following surgery to treat damage to his anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament.

He returned to full training this week and there is a chance the Jamaican international could play during the postseason.

“He is probably behind where you would think if you saw him train out there. He is back at training, and this is his first week and he looks good, but there is still a year’s worth of rehab and trauma that he is still digging out of,” Olsen said. “Hopefully we are around long enough for him to come in to play. He is back in training, no restrictions.”

Additionally, United signed 15-year-old midfielder Moses Nyeman to a homegrown contract. He will spend the remainder of the 2019 season with USL Championship affiliate Loudoun United.

How to watch the game

D.C. United prematurely ended its partnership with online streaming service FloSports on Thursday. Sunday’s game is available to stream for free in the DC area on dcunited.com. Those outside the local area can watch on ESPN+.

The relationship between United and FloSports lasted less than a year with many criticizing the availability of the service and technical issues during multiple matches.

“D.C. United will no longer be distributing our match telecasts through FloSports,” a club statement said. “Announcements on broadcast plans for the 2020 season and beyond will be made in due course.”

Match information

When: Sunday, Oct. 6 at 4 p.m. ET
Where: Audi Field — Washington, D.C.
Streaming: dcunited.com

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