Welcome to Matchday 3. This weekly article provides a preview of the weekend’s MLS action through a betting and fantasy lens. Before we get into this week’s picks, let’s recap last week.
Last week’s review
We had another successful weekend as João Klauss’ gift of a goal powered our winnings (+200). Honestly, it took a bit of fortune for us to get there. St. Louis earned a penalty, but it was Eduard Löwen, not Klauss, tasked with penalty-kick responsibilities. However, Klauss later found the scoresheet after St. Louis was once again gifted a goal via a giveaway from the opposition.
Our “Under 2.5 Total Goals” bet hit in Chicago v. NYCFC. However, rather than just one, both teams scored, splitting our paired bets. The Fire was lucky to come away with anything as they benefited from a deflected goal. Maxime Chanot nearly sank the stake altogether as he inexplicably missed a header from point-blank range.
We also split on our obligatory Nashville pick. The ‘Yotes drew with the Red Bulls (+240), but our stab at a 1-1 scoreline did not land.
Our biggest loss came as D.C. United was unable to find a goal against Columbus. United fired off 15 shots for 0.9 expected goals. Both teams played much better defensively in Week 2 after conceding multiple goals in Week 1.
In total, we finished +2.12 units for the week. It brings our season total to +2.82 units.
Now that we’ve put a bow on Week 2, on to Matchday 3 we go!
D.C. United defeats a depleted Orlando City
If you take away nothing else from today’s article, remember this. Conacaf Champions League (CCL) must absolutely factor into your bets. While some teams have had seven days of rest, others traveled thousands of miles to play in inhospitable environments during the midweek.
Just as importantly, those same teams competing in CCL will play the second leg early next week. It often leads to heavy rotation and poor results. Most MLS squads simply lack the depth to simultaneously compete on multiple fronts.
Orlando City enjoyed a relatively short journey, by CCL standards, of 2,200 miles roundtrip. The Lions played away to tournament favorites UANL Tigres and held their own eeking out a 0-0 draw. The favorable road result ensures that Orlando City will be pouring all of its resources into the home leg on Wednesday. Given such, expect heavy rotation this weekend from Óscar Pareja.
Now, Orlando’s reserves certainly could squeeze out a result. The line has shifted toward D.C. throughout the week, but it still provides value given Orlando’s need to rotate. D.C. United is by no means a great team, but they have enough quality to win this one in front of a home audience.
D.C. United Win (+120) 1.0 unit
A Revolution result against the champions
Let’s hit on this week’s theme again. Simultaneously competing in CCL and MLS causes problems for most MLS squads.
While LAFC is certainly formidable, they are not immune to it. On Thursday, the Black and Gold traveled 5,400 miles roundtrip to play a tricky match against Alajuelense. LAFC got a big win, but used a first-choice XI in the match. After Sunday’s match against New England, LAFC will meet up with the Costa Rican side again on Wednesday.
Even with a three-goal advantage, LAFC will prioritize CCL over MLS play to ensure they progress to the next round. The Black and Gold have already captured two Supporters’ Shields in their brief history. Their sights will be set on a much bigger prize. Plus, the path to the final is relatively clear with Vancouver and Philadelphia as the likely opponents.
Two years ago, the New England Revolution set a single-season points record. While they took a dip down the table in 2022, the early returns for 2023 suggest that this Bruce Arena side is capable of a top-four finish in the Eastern Conference.
The trade for Dave Romney has shored up their perpetual weakness at center back, and the attacking pieces are beginning to show some bite. Djordje Petrovic has seamlessly replaced Matt Turner and may even be a better shot-stopper.
The midfield is where I want to focus on. Youngster Noel Buck has added stability in the central areas playing alongside Matt Polster. Last week, the Revs dismantled Houston’s talented midfield by deploying a narrow midfield diamond that clogged space and never gave the Dyanmo a chance to breathe. New England could deploy similar tactics to exhaust an LAFC midfield that lacks depth and may be exhausted following mid-week CCL play.
Here, I’m splitting my bet ensuring that I will still earn a profit if the match ends in a draw.
New England Double Chance – Draw or Win (+150) 0.5 units
New England Win (+500) 0.5 units
A nimble RSL goalscorer play
Real Salt Lake will hold its home opener this weekend against Austin FC. Other than the late winner against Montreal, Los Verdes have suffered from a nightmare start to 2023. Week 1 featured the home loss to St. Louis CITY SC in that club’s first MLS match.
This week the misery piled on further. Austin embarrassingly lost by three goals to Violette, a semi-professional side that had not played a competitive match in nearly a year. It was one of, if not the biggest, upsets in CCL history.
Austin was due for a regression in 2023, but no reasonable mind could have seen this coming. Their struggles start with the central defense where Austin is missing Julion Cascante. Austin may have found a temporary partnership between Alex Ring and Leo Väisänen. Neither started during the midweek, ostensibly to be saved for this weekend’s match. But this is still a new paring with Ring deputizing as a center back.
After a 3,600-mile roundtrip during the week, do you really think this side is up for an away trip to altitude? Does Austin put several key contributors on a minutes count knowing that they must erase a three-goal deficit on Wednesday? There are serious questions about Austin’s mindset heading to Utah.
Our bet here is that an RSL striker will take advantage of the new center-back pairing and find a goal. Here is where we need to stay nimble. Rubio Rubin entered the season as the first-choice striker, but Anderson Julio started the first two matches. Rubin was suspended from the first match due to a carried-over red card from 2022. In Week 2, he replaced Julio in the 59th minute. My guess is that Rubin starts this week. However, keep an eye on the lineup drop and select whichever player gets the start.
Rubio Rubin Anytime Goalscorer (+280) 1.0 unit
Anderson Julio Anytime Goalscorer (+260) 1.0 unit
If I must bet on Nashville
There is a lot to like about the way Nashville SC has started the season with a commanding victory against NYCFC and a hard-earned point at the New York Red Bulls. The combination of Jacob Shaffelburg and Fafà Picault has breathed some life into the attack, even if that was not evident last week.
Montréal is a work in progress and may continue to be for the rest of the season. Hernán Losada is known for a high-octane style. However, he inherited a roster (or what is left of it) that was accustomed to playing a methodical, possession-based system.
Rather than ripping off the bandaid, he is trying to thread the needle between the two. Montréal still shows a commitment and ability to play out of the back. However, there is scant cohesion in the final third. Their most dangerous attacks have come via Romell Quioto acting as a one-man counterattack.
Defensively, they have sat in a mid-block and only occasionally pressed higher up the pitch. Vertical play and early crosses, in particular, showed Montréal’s vulnerabilities.
If Montréal decides to sit deep and force Nashville to break down a compact shape, it could present Nashville with real problems. We still have not seen the ‘Yotes accomplish that feat with real regularity.
However, I predict Gary Smith will treat Montréal much like he did NYCFC, obliging the opponent to enjoy spells of possession that bring the backline further up the pitch creating space for counterattacking opportunities. Given Montréal’s historical nature, they will take the bait.
Beyond the match itself, the betting line provides some value. It values Montréal as a playoff bubble team. Personally, I am not that convinced after a tumultuous offseason with several key departures.
Nashville SC Win (-115) 1.0 unit
MLS Fantasy tip of the week
Last week, I provided two center-back targets, Jackson Ragen and Luis Abram. As I warned, Abram was not guaranteed to start as he integrates into the side. He remains worth keeping an eye on week-to-week given his $5.3 million-dollar price tag.
Ragen, on the other hand, delivered an excellent fantasy week. The Seattle center back scored eight points in a shutout win. Just as importantly, he increased $500,000 in value heading into Week 3. He, along with Jared Stroud, powered my rise in team value by $3.1 million dollars.
This week, I have two key targets, Evander (POR – M – $8.9m) and NYCFC goalkeeper Luis Barraza (NYC – GK – $5.1m).
Evander, Portland’s club-record signing, is an immensely talented #10 that still has room to climb in value. He still leads the Europa League in assists (5) even after this week’s fixtures. Last week, he marked his name on the scoresheet with a goal at LAFC. In Week 3, the Timbers return to Providence Park to face St. Louis CITY SC. While the newcomers have made waves in their first two weeks, there are signs that opposing attackers will be presented with plenty of opportunities to rack up points.
Barraza (GK – $5.1m – NYCFC) is the third-cheapest starting goalkeeper available. He is still priced $400,000 cheaper than his backup, Matt Freese. Prior to the season, many expected Freese to win the #1 jersey. The MLS Fantasy pricing algorithm has yet to catch up.
After spending the first two weeks on the road, I expect a lift for Barraza and NYCFC as they head home for the first time this season. Despite starting away from the Big Apple, NYCFC’s defense only allowed a combined 2.0 xG. Plus, the Pigeons now have James Sands and Santi Rodriguez back in the fold.
Those two additions will help New York City control matches and protect Barraza. Their opponent this week, Inter Miami, started off hot with a pair of home victories. I am not convinced that it will last the Herons as they make their first road trip of the season. Barraza is both a strong candidate for a clean sheet and a significant bump in value to fall more in line with the rest of the starting goalkeeper pack.
The smart play here is to start the day with Barraza on your bench with one of the Mountain or Pacific Time Zone goalkeepers as your starter. If Barraza logs a clean sheet, replace the west-coast starter with a $4 million-dollar scratch and spend the money elsewhere.
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