Welcome to Matchday 10. This weekly article previews the weekend’s MLS action through a betting and fantasy lens. Before we get into this week’s picks, let’s recap last week.
We were flying last week on Matchday 9. We scored wins on three of our four bets with the one loss coming via Michael Barrios’ stoppage-time equalizer against St. Louis City.
As a result, we finished + 4.35 units on the week and brought our season total back near the break-even mark, – 1.12 units.
On to this week’s picks…
Real Salt Lake v. Seattle
I’m not going to bury the lede. The Seattle Sounders have failed to win a match away to Real Salt Lake in 12 straight contests. Of those, only one match was a draw. It is a tricky place to play, but for the Sounders it might as well be the bogeyman.
Even without the series’ history, this line should entice bettors.
After a disastrous start to 2023, Real Salt Lake righted the ship. They have won two of their last three games. The loss, a 2-1 defeat at F.C. Dallas, saw the visitors finish with slightly ahead on chances generated (RSL: 1.09 xG / FCD: 0.87 xG). https://app.americansocceranalysis.com/#!/mls/xgoals/teams
The Sounders have been unbeatable at home in 2023, but the away results have seesawed (2-0-2). The two wins came at bottom dwellers Sporting Kansas City and Los Angeles Galaxy.
With extremely favorable odds given to RSL and Seattle’s suspect history in the Beehive State, I am rolling with the Claret and Cobalt.
Real Salt Lake (+160). 1.0 unit
Sporting Kansas City v. C.F. Montréal
What happens when the league’s worst offense squares off against the league’s worst defense? We’re about to find out.
Through nine games, SKC has scored just three goals. The underlying numbers are not nearly as bleak. Per American Soccer Analysis, they have generated 7.8 xG (third worst in MLS).
It’s not great, but it suggests that Sporting is overdue for a heaping dose of positive regression.
The improvement will likely arrive via Alan Pulido and Johnny Russell. The two Designated Players missed the first few matches of the season and are just now beginning to collect a string of starts. As their form increases, so will Sporting’s goal tally.
On the other side, Montréal brings the league’s worst defense, both in terms of actual goals conceded (17) and expected goals against (14.50).
It’s not all that surprising of a result given the roster and coaching staff turnover. To make matters worse, Hernan Losada’s high-intensity principles poorly fit this previously possession-based squad.
The lack of talent and clear identity has created issues for Montréal on the other end as well. The Impact has the lowest expected goal tally in the league – even lower than Sporting.
Luckily for Montréal, SKC’s aging defense has not exactly protected their own net. Their 12.58 xGA is the sixth-worst mark in MLS. To make matters worse, Andreu Fontàs will miss Saturday’s match due to red-card suspension.
The moral of the story, these are two equally bad teams. Sporting has enough attacking talent to exploit the plethora of opportunities Montréal will grant them, and Montréal’s speed and pressure should cause a few headaches for Sporting’s poor defense. By combining Both Teams To Score (BTTS) with the Over, we can slightly increase the odds on the table.
SGP: BTTS and Over 2.5 goals (-110) 1.0 unit
Austin FC v. San Jose
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. A year after finishing second in the Western Conference, Austin has crashed back to reality. The attack is broken and star man Sebastian Driussi is posting cryptic social media messages. More worryingly, he has dropped into deeper pockets trying to force this issue.
As a result, the verde smoke and light shows have rarely flipped on this season. Four out of Austin’s five home games have finished with less than three goals.
A year after significantly outperforming their underlying numbers, Austin has regressed both in actual and expected output. Josh Wolff’s men have scored just six goals off 8.83 xG.
While San Jose has kicked off to a flying start, Austin will have a significant advantage when it comes to rest. There is no midweek U.S. Open Cup match for Los Verdes, while San Jose traveled to and lost to Monterey Bay on Tuesday.
The Earthquakes are the better side, but I am not going to expect a big scoring number from them on the road playing their third game in seven days. Luchi Gonzales will most likely adopt a conservative game plan that forces a struggling Austin side to break down a compacted block. If it works, there should once again be less than three goals produced on the night.
Under 2.5 Goals (+110) 1.0 unit
If you are forcing me to bet on Nashville…
An early version of this story contained a “Draw” bet prediction. Within one hour of publishing, it was announced that Giorgos Giakoumakis would be missing on Saturday. Given the closeness to time from publication, I am amending the bet
Giakoumakis is a big loss for Atlanta. An impressive performance against Charlotte aside, Atlanta’s attack struggled to generate high-quality chances before the Greek striker’s debut. Given the missing piece, I am flipping this to a narrow Nashville victory
Nashville Win (+115) 1.0 unit
MLS Fantasy Tip of the Week
My captain for the week will be Lucas Zelarayán (CLB – MID – $11.8m). The Columbus Crew star faces off against Inter Miami, a team that has lost six-straight league matches.
Quietly, Zelarayán is putting up the best numbers of his career. On a per 96-minute basis, he has accumulated his highest expected goals plus assists per game (0.58). While he is running slightly hot of his expected totals, I would not expect any appreciable regression.
If anything, the best version of the Argentine playmaker may be ahead of us. His running mate, Cucho Hernández, made his 2023 debut on Wednesday picking up 45 minutes of action. While I highly doubt he goes the full 90 minutes on Saturday, his return, even if just for another half, should open up space for Zelarayán to operate.
Wilfried Nancy is unlocking the best version of this Columbus Crew side. Against a reeling Inter Miami squad, I expect plenty of scoring opportunities for Zelarayán.
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