It's win and get in for D.C. United in their match Sunday against David Villa and New York City FC, the only team to beat D.C. since late July.
United is among the league's hottest teams since the July acquisitions of forward Patrick Mullins and winger Lloyd Sam, having won their last three matches while going unbeaten in their last five.
Mullins and Sam have combined for 10 goals and five assists with D.C. (10-9-13, 43 points), in the process turning a struggling offensive team into a dangerous one. United haven't been shut out in 14 matches while scoring 31 goals -- 2.21 per game -- over that stretch.
"I think everybody could tell that's kind of when our team started to pick it up offensively," D.C. midfielder Lamar Neagle told mlssoccer.com. "Guys have just kind of latched on and continue to kind of create that upward momentum that we have."
A fourth consecutive victory would put fifth-place United beyond touching distance of seventh-place New England for one of six Eastern Conference playoff spots with a match to spare.
It would mean defeating an NYCFC side (14-9-9, 51 points) that pulled off a dramatic victory over D.C. at Yankee Stadium 45 days ago in its pursuit of the conference regular-season crown.
Frank Lampard scored in the third minute of second-half stoppage time in New York's 3-2 victory over D.C. on Sept. 1, canceling out Neagle's equalizer two minutes earlier. That's one reason NYCFC enters the weekend behind the New York Red Bulls for first place only on goal difference (plus 4 to plus 14).
"We can't feel like champions, even more so in this league because of the playoffs," NYCFC forward David Villa told mlssoccer.com. "We're in the playoffs and we get to play in them for the first time in franchise history and it'll be easier for us in the playoffs if we're first [in the Eastern Conference]."
Villa has two goals in each of his last two games to make it 21 for the season, tying him with the Red Bulls' Bradley Wright-Phillips for the league lead.
© 2016 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.