For just the third time since arriving in July, New York City FC midfielder Frank Lampard is expected to play when NYCFC takes on the defending MLS Cup champion L.A. Galaxy

By Jeff Weisinger

At one point a few years ago, Frank Lampard was close to signing with the Los Angeles Galaxy. On Sunday, he’ll get his first chance to play against them.

After fully training on Friday for the first time in two weeks, the rarely available NYCFC midfielder Lampard is expected to play when the Blues take on the MLS Cup champion Los Angeles Galaxy (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) in what’s being labeled their toughest match of the season.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiKReDaWAgU?rel=0]

“Looks pretty good right now. Looks pretty good,” NYCFC head coach Jason Kreis said. “Participated in the training session [Friday], and look to have him involved [Saturday], and we hope he can make a step forward [Saturday] and then another step forward for the match.”

The match will feature Lampard and former EPL rival Steven Gerrard on the same MLS pitch for the first and only time in the regular season since both came from England this summer.

“Two of the best midfield players, not just in England, but in the world,” David Villa added.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the Galaxy are the best team in the league right now,” Kreis said. “They have the points to prove it and the record to prove it and the goals to prove it and everything else, so it’s a massive challenge for us.”

NYCFC (7-11-7; 28 points) came away with a draw against Columbus on Wednesday and a big win against Eastern Conference and Supporters Shield leading D.C. United the Thursday prior. However, despite getting a key four out of six points to stay within the playoff hunt, a win against the Galaxy should push NYCFC clearly above the red line for the first time since March.

With losses by both Orlando City and Montreal on Saturday, the Blues face a must-win in L.A. to take over the sixth and final playoff spot in the East. A draw would put NYCFC over the red line as well, however a win would completely put them over Montreal in points and in the head-to-head as Montreal has one more win than NYCFC at the moment.

“We have to keep moving forward and recognizing we’re doing really some nice things, but there are areas that need improvement,” Kreis mentioned. “We know the matches are getting bigger and bigger and the points that are there are more and more valuable. We need every point we can get right now. It’s time for our biggest players to step up and make big plays in these kinds of games.”

Midfielder Kwadwo Poku, who’s taken over for Lampard the past two weeks, has played extremely well in Lampard’s place, scoring three goals with four assists in the last four MLS games, sparking the NYCFC offensive attack. With Lampard healthy and Poku playing the entire, if not close to the entire, last two games, it’s worth wondering if Lampard will start on Sunday to give Poku a bit of a rest. Or will Kreis stay with the hot foot of Poku in a must-win game.

NYCFC is 4-0-1 with Poku in the starting lineup while Lampard has struggled to get anything going in the 106 total minutes played with the Blues this season. Poku seems like the better option to start and play on Sunday, however with the match being dubbed “Lampard vs. Gerrard” Lampard may see more playing time than NYCFC supporters would desire.

The Galaxy have been near unstoppable at home in the last five games, outscoring opponents 22-4. The Galaxy have lost just one at home in the last 29 regular-season matches.

“They’re a very good team with a ton of confidence right now that has done well at home, historically,” Kreis stated. “That doesn’t mean to say they’re impossible to beat. They have weaknesses as well and we’ll look to exploit them.”

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