I’m kicking off the 2023 season with a new series featuring three MLS-based wagers, one obligatory Nashville pick, and an MLS fantasy tip each weekend.
For those that have followed me elsewhere, you will know that I previously attempted to deliver this in a much grander fashion. I’ll be honest: I bit off a lot more than I could chew. The hope is that by paring things down, we can sustain this for the long haul of the entire season.
On to the Week 1 picks…
San Jose spoils the opening-night party in Atlanta
With Luchi Gonzalez at the helm, the Earthquakes enter the 2023 season with a sense of stability and direction. Despite their undeniable talent, the team has historically struggled to live up to expectations under prior management. Beyond Luchi’s appointment, the recent acquisition of Jonathan Mensah has significantly boosted their potential, raising the ceiling for San Jose. While early-season odds remain uncertain, the team is poised for a stronger showing this year.
In Atlanta, the arrival of Garth Largerway as President brought a welcome boost of organizational competence. While this will prove valuable in the long run, the team will need to adjust to missing several key players early. New DP striker Giorgos Giakoumakis won’t factor into this one as he just recently joined the club. Derrick Etienne Jr., another offseason addition, is battling a preseason knock. The return of Miles Robinson and Brad Guzan from Achilles injuries will also require some adjustment as they work to regain their prior form.
Despite Atlanta’s tendency to dominate possession (they led MLS in possession rate last season with 57.1%), San Jose’s counterattacking style could prove to be a challenge for Atlanta. When Atlanta’s fullbacks step up in possession, it will provide the Earthquakes acres of turf to utilize their speed to steal a goal and a point.
San Jose Double Chance (+135) 1 unit
The Loons are in trouble traveling to Texas
Prognosticators have pegged Minnesota United for a precipitous tumble down the table in 2023. Emmanuel Reynoso’s continued absence creates considerable doubts about what the attack will look like. The Loons relied on Reynoso as the sole creative force with everything flowing through the Argentine. Without him, what does the attack look like? They may adapt, but I have to imagine there will suffer through some initial growing pains.
Just as concerning is the continued recovery of Bakaye Dibassy. After tearing his quadriceps tendon in late August, Minnesota stumbled to a 1-2-5 record in their final eight matches. Miguel Tapias joined from Pachua, which will help stabilize the backline, but any partnership with Michael Boxall will take time to develop.
On the other side, I’m bullish on F.C. Dallas this season. I predicted Dallas to finish second in the Western Conference in Broadway Sports’ season preview. With a stable starting front five entering the season, I expect Los Toros’ attack to hit the ground running.
Dallas finished with an excellent home record in 2022 (10-4-3), and I expect that to continue into the new season.
FC Dallas Win (-130) 1.25 units
Toronto’s Italian star shines early in Washington D.C.
D.C. United looks primed for another Wooden Spoon campaign. Ravel Morrison has already fallen out of Wayne Rooney’s good graces, and the whole squad feels devoid of difference-makers at the MLS level.
Rooney, in his desperation, has turned to a 16-year-old center back who appears poised to start on opening day.
Even on the road, Toronto and its star Italian playmaker should be able to pounce on D.C.’s weakness. No, I am not talking about Lorenzo Insigne. I am talking about Federico Bernardeschi.
In half of a season with Toronto, Bernardeschi netted eight goals across just over 1,000 minutes (0.66 g/90). He never had a multi-goal game, spreading out his tally by scoring in 8 of 13 matches played.
At the current odds of +188 to score, the books have placed an implied probability of just 34.7% on Bernadeschi scoring. Against the Wooden Spoon contenders and a 16-year-old center back, I think Bernadeschi’s odds of scoring are higher than the implied probability.
F. Bernardeschi Anytime Goal Scorer (+188) 1.0 unit
If you’re forcing me to bet on Nashville’s match…
It’s hard to wager on your own club. On one hand, you know the ins and outs better than most linemakers. On the other hand, bias can cloud judgment.
With Hany Mukhtar available and NYCFC still sorting out their roster after a winter of upheaval, I like Nashville’s odds to open the season with a win.
Nashville Win (+100) 1.0 unit
MLS Fantasy Tip of the Week
As a top-250 finisher in MLS Fantasy last season, I’m setting my sights even higher for 2023 – I’m aiming for a top-100 finish this time around.
If you haven’t already, join Speedway Soccer‘s MLS Fantasy league here.
The recent MLS x Apple TV deal is a huge win for fans, bringing standardized time slots and the majority of matches kicking off at 7:30 p.m. local time. While this is a great development for supporters, it does make things a bit more challenging for fantasy players who can no longer park early-match players on the bench and see their point totals before deciding on their starting lineup. However, this change should also result in a more balanced game that doesn’t give a significant advantage to those who are constantly tinkering with their lineup.
For Week 1, my biggest piece of advice is to identify a player or two who will rise in value after the first week. Building up your “Team Value” in the early weeks is just as crucial as scoring the most points, as it will allow you to create a stronger roster for the rest of the season.
Personally, I’m targeting D.C. United defender Matai Akinmboni as a player who is likely to see his value rise after the first match.
While it may seem counterintuitive based on the Bernadeschi bet above, there is a good chance that Akinmboni will rise in value regardless due to his starting status. By keeping him on my bench and earning that extra $500,000 to $1,000,000 in value, I’m setting myself up for success down the road. Even if the game is a disappointment for D.C., I will not have lost any points in Week 1. However, I will still be in a better position to build a strong team going forward.
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