Welcome to Matchday 15.
This weekly article previews the weekend’s MLS action through a betting and fantasy lens. Before we get into this weekend’s picks, let’s recap our results from the previous matchday.
Last week, we hit a perfect four out of four on our picks!!!
The banner week brought its own theatrics. The soccer gods answered our prayers with stoppage-time goals from Austin FC and Nashville SC to pay out two of my and Valair’s wagers.
As a result, we finished with + 3.83 units on the week. The perfect week shot us back over the break-even line for a season total of + 1.71 units.
On to this weekend’s picks…
L.A. Galaxy v. Charlotte FC
When it comes to the betting lines involving the Galaxy, I often find myself pondering what Vegas is thinking. It’s perplexing how the books remain thoroughly convinced that Los Angeles is a quality team despite their average of 0.69 points per game.
This week Vegas has set Galaxy as a prohibitive favorite (-145). This figure implies one of two scenarios: either Vegas assumes that LA is a top-five team in the Western Conference and Charlotte is merely average, or they believe that LA is an average team while Charlotte is horrendously awful.
Charlotte is far from being a bottom-dwelling side. Prior to their stoppage-time loss to Nashville, the Crown had triumphed in four of their previous five matches. Notably, they secured a remarkable 3-1 victory on the road against Atlanta. It is proof positive of Charlotte’s improvement away from home this year, with a record of 2 wins, 1 draw, and 3 losses.
While it’s true that the Galaxy have consistently fallen short of their expected goals this season, it’s crucial to recognize that this is partly due to their position as a struggling team that often finds itself chasing games.
Considering the talent and underlying numbers of Los Angeles, it’s evident that they are better than their current record suggests. They might even triumph over Charlotte and sink this particular bet. Nonetheless, it remains unfathomable why the team with the league’s worst record is considered the strongest home favorite for the weekend. I will choose to seize the value wherever it lies.
Charlotte Win (+340) 0.5 unit
Charlotte Double Chance (+290) 0.5 unit
Houston Dynamo v. Austin FC
For all the early praise showered on Houston, the Dynamo have fallen on rough times. The defense is competent, but the attack is dreadful. Ben Olsen’s side are winless in their last four matches having only scored one goal in that span.
They are dead last in the league with just 8.9 non-penalty expected goals. The problem stems from the roster’s lack of a creative force or reliable goal scorer. Accordingly, Houston’s last six matches paid out the “Under” bet.
On the other side of the ball, Austin’s attack has been similarly substandard. Verde has scored multiple goals in only five of thirteen matches and averages only one goal per match. Regression to the mean is one explainer, the absence of Sebastián Driussi certainly has not helped. It does not appear that the MVP runner-up is quite ready to return.
With both teams having played midweek in the Open Cup, I expect a slow-paced, low-scoring affair.
Under 2.5 goals (-110) 1.0 unit
As with any truly special manager, like José Mourinho, I will take 100% of the credit for my team’s successes. Therefore, I will give myself a pat on the back for the foresight to bring Valair Shabilla into the fold. Valair is a perfect two for two on his bets and making this look easy. Let’s see what he has in store for us this week. Take it away Valair!
Valair: Thanks, Chris! All you need now is to create internal conflict and a toxic locker room to truly become José Mourinho. Admittedly, it is much easier to keep the 100% record, when I only submit one pick per week. Regardless, we move. This week, I am taking St. Louis CITY v. Vancouver Whitecaps.
CITY is coming off an impressive 4-0 win in the first edition of the Derby-que (I didn’t come up with that, but I like it). Beating SKC is not really a storyline in 2023, but let’s focus on the goals. CITY leads the Western Conference and is only second to Atlanta in the league in goals scored (26). While not at the same rate as the start of the season, Bradley Carnell’s brand of energy drink soccer continues to get results. At home, CITY regularly scores over two goals and have only been shut out once.
Moving on to Vancouver, while they are still inconsistent in terms of results, they have been in good scoring form. The Caps have found the back of the net 18 times this season which puts them fourth in the Western Conference. They’ve only been shut out twice, and only one of those was away.
This is a perfect matchup for St. Louis as the Canadian side loves to play with the ball. With that said, the Caps will be motivated to build on their great results against Seattle last week and Pacific FC in the midweek. At the very least, even with a rotated side, it is reasonable to expect them to score at CITY Park where St. Louis have only kept two clean sheets. That is why I am picking both teams to score, and for extra spiciness, no draw. St. Louis seem uninterested in draws with only one on their record this season.
Both Teams to Score No Draw (+130) 1.0 unit
If you are forcing me to bet on Nashville…
The ‘Yotes may have the league’s best defense, but it has been porous – at least by Nashville’s standards – of late. After starting the year with a streak of shutouts, Nashville has conceded at least one goal in six of their last seven matches. Across that same stretch, the “Over” bet has paid out five times.
While the results have not caught up, Columbus’ attack has ticked up since the return of Cucho Hernandez four matches ago. Both in expected (2.02 xG / match) and actual goals scored (1.75 g / match), there has been a tangible improvement. Amazing what happens when one of the league’s best finishers is on the field.
In a lot of ways, the stylistic battle sets the table for multiple goals for Nashville. Under Wilfried Nancy, Columbus stresses a possession-based system. Those that have attempted such a game plan have often found themselves quickly staring at the backside of another cold-blooded Coyote counterattack.
Equally important, the Crew’s two-headed monster of Hernandez and Lucas Zelarayan should find the scoreboard at least once with Nashville still without Walker Zimmerman.
Over 2.5 goals (-115) 1.0 unit
MLS Fantasy Tip of the Week
My eyes are focused this week on Indiana Vassilev ($6.6m – MID – STL) as a budget play. Last week, the Georgia native exploded for two goals in St. Louis CITY’s smashing of Sporting Kansas City.
Ordinarily, I shy away from chasing past results. Outside of the top stars, there usually is not a week-to-week consistency in point production.
However, Vassilev may be an exception based on the altered role he has been asked to play due to the absence of João Klauss – who appears set to miss yet another match.
Vassilev is playing higher up the pitch with the freedom to make runs in behind Nicholas Gioacchini. With CITY’s vertical attack, Vassilev presents a quick option immediately following a turnover. His first goal against Sporting highlights this well.
As soon as Gady Kinda is dispossessed, Vassilev makes an immediate run toward the net while maintaining an open body posture to invite the ball played to his feet. He makes a quick touch to evade the defender and fire off a shot. Frankly, it is a shot that ought to be saved at this level, but credit to Vassilev for making the keeper work.
Sequences like this have proved plentiful for St. Louis attackers this season. The aforementioned Klauss benefited from these before succumbing to injury. His contributions were far greater than the gifted goals that stick in everyone’s mind.
Against Vancouver, I expect an opponent with tired legs that will also have trouble handling CITY’s pressure. The Whitecaps spent Wednesday night traveling back and forth to Pacific FC for their semifinal match of the Canadian Championship before making the trek to St. Louis. With a pair of home games next week for the Whitecaps, the St. Louis away trip may be Vanni Sartini’s opportunity to bite the bullet and rotate his lineup.
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