Welcome to Matchday 5. 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 will keep last week’s review quick. Work dragged me away from home this week and most of this preview has been drafted from shaky laptops on planes and in airports.
Last week ended horribly on paper but with plenty of moral victories. A ten-man Philadelphia Union led CF Montréal before collapsing due to a pair of late goals. That is the second time that a road underdog win has been snatched away in such fashion after San Jose’s Week 1 defeat due to a pair of Thiago Almada golazos. Once again, it is a great reminder to cash out those road underdogs as you approach the 80th – 85th minutes.
Beyond the Union, Nashville played well enough to earn a draw but fell short to New England. Josef Martínez failed to score and never really came close to finding his first goal with Miami. The one win came via F.C. Dallas handling its business at home against Sporting Kansas City.
In total, we finished -2.1 units dragging our season total down to -1.42 units.
Now on to this week’s picks
LAFC v. FC Dallas
This week is all about knowing who is and who is not available. MLS decided to play through the FIFA March international window. The effect is decimated rosters missing many key pieces.
LAFC is one of those teams. First-choice starters Denis Bouanga, Jose Cifuentes, and Diego Palacios are all absent due to international duty.
Losing Bouanga, in particular, is a big blow for the Black and Gold. As Carlos Vela’s on-pitch impact has started to slip, Bouanga has quickly established himself as one of the most dangerous attackers in the entire league. LAFC is still a strong side without him, but his absence limits their ruthless edge.
Unlike LAFC, F.C. Dallas remains untouched by the international window. Only a couple of non-contributing youth players have been called up for this window. On the other side, Dallas is a formidable team in their own right. There is balance in the roster and the attacking trio of Alan Velasco, Jesús Ferreira, and Paul Arriola can cause problems for LAFC’s defense.
With a high betting line that has not caught up with the international duty absences, I can split up my bet and come away with a profit so long as Dallas secures a point.
Dallas Win (+440) 0.5 units
Dallas Double Chance (+128) 0.5 units
Jeremy Ebobisse and the Quakes
This one is not hard to understand at all.
Toronto is an atrocious team in defense. With a roster stacked full of Canadian internationals, they are perhaps the hardest hit by international appearances this match window. Ayo Akinola, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Richie Laryea, and Jonathan Osorio are all missing for the Reds. Those absences place a large burden on Michael Bradley and Brandon Sevania to travel across the continent and try and handle a potent Earthquakes attack that ranks fifth in expected goals.
With absences rocking Toronto, Jeremy Ebobisse stands to benefit the most. He already has two goals on the season. In front of a home audience against a weakened side, plus money on a Jeremey Ebobisse goal feels like a gift.
J. Ebobisse Anytime Scorer (+120) 1.0 unit.
Philadelphia v. Orlando City
This is a match where both teams must navigate around multiple missing pieces. Philadelphia’s strong pipeline to its academy allows it to sail around potential problems easier than most clubs. While they will miss Daniel Gazdag (Int’l Duty), Jose Martinez (Int’l Duty), Andre Blake (groin), and Julian Carranza (Suspension), there are enough pieces to pick up the slack.
If there were missing pieces from Philly’s formidable backline, I may be more concerned. However, the league’s best defensive unit will all be available on Saturday.
For Orlando City, they face several headwinds. They will be without stars Pedro Gallese and Facundo Torres. More importantly, this team has yet to find its shooting boots. The Lions have managed just three goals from four games this season and carry the league’s fifth-worst expected goal tally (3.85 xG).
Whether you take the Under on 2.5 Goals, “No” on Both Teams To Score, or just Philadelphia straight up, you will see similar odds this week.
For my purposes, I will keep this a straight-up Philly win. If you want to extend your odds, find a book that will allow you to parlay two of the three bets above.
Philadelphia Win (-140) 1.0 unit
If you force me to bet on Nashville…
Earlier in the week, I would have put good money on a draw. At full strength, these sides are relatively even with maybe a slight edge to F.C. Cincinnati (as painful as it is to admit it).
After digging into the matchup, my concern for FCC grew. The visitors will be without nearly its entire midfield. It is really unclear as to who will pair with Obinna Nwobodo in Cincinnati’s double pivot. Junior Moreno (Int’l Duty), Marco Angulo (Int’l Duty), and Yuya Kubo (Injury) will all be absent.
Does Pat Noonan turn to a homegrown player such as Malik Pinto or does he play someone out of position in a deep-lying midfield role? It is a difficult question to answer.
While Cincinnati is dropping like flies in the midfield, Nashville appears to have Anibal Godoy back for this match. His presence and ability always seem to unlock another level of bite and ball progression that goes missing when he is gone.
If Nashville can dominate the midfield and prevent Cincinnati from getting out on the break, the Coyotes will win this match
Nashville Win (+100) 1.0 unit
MLS Fantasy Tip of the Week
One of the easiest strategies in MLS Fantasy is to target players from the most heavily favored teams, according to betting markets. By that metric alone, the odds will steer you towards (1) strong attacking sides; (2) playing at home; (3) against relatively weaker competition.
In that vein, I am targeting Austin F.C. and Sebastián Driussi (ATX – MID – $9.0 m). Given Austin’s rocky start, Driussi’s price has not experienced the same lift as a few other MVP-caliber midfielders. It provides a few extra dollars worth of savings as you construct your lineup with the continued hope that he will increase in value next week. Which he should.
Los Verdes welcome in the Colorado Rapids, a team reeling from a poor start and the season-long loss of captain Jack Price. The wheels could fall off in a hurry for the Rapids. If so, it will open space in the central areas for Driussi and Austin’s attack to start firing on all cylinders.