Welcome to Matchday 8. This weekly article previews the weekend’s MLS action through a betting and fantasy lens.
After a two-week hiatus for work and personal travel, including a trip to see the G.O.A.T himself, Lionel Messi, I am back with my betting and fantasy MLS picks of the week.
On to the picks…
I am starting this week off in St. Louis, the rightful soccer capital of the United States.
After making waves the first few weeks with a historic and improbable start as an expansion side, St. Louis CITY SC has crashed back to earth the last two weeks with a pair of losses to Seattle and Minnesota. It is safe to say that opponents are no longer taking the MLS newcomers lightly.
This week, CITY SC welcomes FC Cincinnati to town. Tactically speaking, there should be relatively few surprises in this match. Both Pat Noonan and Bradley Carnell espouse similar principles of play.
This year, Cincinnati has added a wrinkle showing an ability to exhibit greater defensive patience and control. The slight shift along with the talent acquisitions over the last year has created a defensively stout side through the first seven weeks of 2023. The Lions have posted the fourth-best expected goals against tally this season.
More importantly, they have learned how to grind out results. FCC posted shutouts in their first two away games this year.
Against St. Louis CITY, I expect a similar result. Cincy should exhibit a level of comfort with the home side’s defensive pressure and force St. Louis into the uncomfortable situation of trying to unlock an organized defense. Both teams could score, but I am looking for a low-scoring output.
Under 2.5 Goals (+100) 1.0 unit
Big Bet Benteke
A Benteke goal and D.C. United win. That’s not too much to ask, right?
Big Bet Benteke is the nickname I will bestow on my D.C. United pick this weekend. It will be the most relevant B.B.B. has been since LaVar Ball’s 15 minutes of outsized fame.
This bet is not too hard to figure out. Christian Benteke is sixth among all MLS players in xG through the first seven weeks. The Premier League veteran is a physical force to deal with and keeps popping up in prime scoring positions.
CF Montréal has done nothing but leak goals. Only once this season has the Impact not conceded multiple goals in a match. After shipping out Kamal Miller, I do not expect the task of keeping clean sheets to be any easier in the short term.
With Montréal’s backline in flux, I am going to take a swing at a couple of bets that I will then parlay together.
D.C. United Win (+260) 0.5 unit
C. Benteke Anytime Goalscorer (+240) 0.5 unit
SGP DC Win + Bentke Goal (+500) 0.5 unit
Earthquakes making noise
The San Jose Earthquakes featured prominently in headlines this week for the worst possible reason. Jeremey Ebobisse’s receipt of racial abuse reminded fans across the league that even in our game, we still have miles and miles to go in stamping out hate.
While that story rightfully soaks up the conversation at the moment, it has drawn attention away from the Earthquakes’ play on the pitch. San Jose is playing a fantastic brand of soccer. They currently rank fourth in xG production.
Talent was never the question for San Jose. Unlike previous regimes, Luchi Gonzalez has placed this 2023 Earthquakes in the best position to win games. It is a breath of fresh air.
On the other side, Sporting Kansas City feels stale. With only two goals scored through their first seven matches, it has been a rocky start for Peter Vermes’ side.
In fairness, injuries have certainly derailed the start of their 2023 season. Alan Pulido and Johnny Russell are now both back and starting, but it is going to take time for that attack to click and begin to gel following Pulido’s extended absence.
Until we see that SKC attack begin to click, an even money home favorite looks mightly tantalizing. Enough so, that I will put a little extra juice on San Jose.
San Jose Win (+110) 1.5 Units
If you are forcing me to bet on Nashville…
Speaking of scoring problems, Nashville has had its own struggles generating consistent offense. Outside of quick, counterattacking moves, the Boys in Gold have largely failed to craft meaningful chances. Their 0.87 expected goals per 90 minutes is the second-worst rate in the league.
I am not sure that mark improves this week against New York City.
Sure, Nashville dispatched NYCFC on Matchday 1, but that was a different team with several missing pieces to the roster. Retribution will be on NYCFC’s minds nonetheless.
On the road, the Coyotes will need to adjust to the friendly confines of Citi Field.
This match is Nashville’s first trip to the Big Apple to play on one of NYCFC’s baseball field home pitches. In games past hosting Nashville, NYCFC was forced to play at Red Bull Arena.
Frankly, I’m not sure how well Nashville will handle the reduced pitch size. For a team that relies on its wingers and counterattacking movements, every foot of reduced grass closes down space for which to operate. It reduces the acreage between the backline and the goalkeeper, allowing for more closed-down through balls. The narrower setup also permits defensive lines to stay more compact, thereby cutting off space to Hany Mukhtar in the channels.
Lastly, the short pitch also acts as a force multiplier for NYCFC’s repress when the ball is lost. On the one hand, Nashville will have no qualms with bypassing the press with route 1 long balls. However, the over-reliance on such tactics has left Nashville’s attack frustrated and disjointed in the past.
If Nashville does find a goal, the ‘Yotes will make life exceedingly difficult for the Pigeons as they sit in and absorb pressure.
Fielding the league’s best defense and an anemic offense, it is easy to see why Nashville has yet to play in a match this season where both teams score. I expect more of the same this week in New York.
Both Teams Score – “NO” (-120) 1.0 unit
MLS Fantasy Tip of the Week
Quick!! Name Charlotte FC’s starting goalkeeper.
Did you guess Kristijan Kahlina? It is not him. Kahlina is still out following preseason back surgery. What about Pablo Sisniega? Also incorrect as he was replaced a few weeks ago.
The correct answer is second-year pro, George Marks. The 23-year-old Clemson graduate wrestled away control of the starting gig and has yet to relinquish control.
Marks (CLT – GK – $5.5m) has looked excellent in his first sustained run of starts of his career. In a key measure of shot-stopping ability, he has posted a PSxG +/- rate of +0.18, the 10th-best mark in the league. PFF FC rates his shot-stopping prowess even higher.
This week, Marks and Charlotte FC host Colorado. The Rapids have managed to find the net just three times this year. Their expected goal tally paints a rosier picture, but I do not expect a road match on the other side of the country to be the night when Colorado finally puts on its scoring boots.
Given the Rapids’ lack of scoring punch, it makes George Marks an intriguing play this week. With a 7:30 PM EDT / 6:30 PM CDT kickoff, Marks is a low-cost bench flyer for the goalkeeping position. If Marks and the Crown post a shutout, you can swap out a starting keeper scheduled for the late window (such as JT Marcinkowski) and use the money saved to augment your roster elsewhere.
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