Welcome to Matchday 12. 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.
Last week, we split our bets with two wins and two losses. We scored a big win with San Jose breaking LAFC’s unbeaten streak and picked up another victory on the back of Nashville’s home win.
As a result, we finished + 0.54 units on the week. Overall, it helped to slightly raise our season total to – 2.43 units.
On to this week’s picks…
Rather than make you wait to figure out this week’s theme, I will give it to you on the jump.
All four of my picks this week are draws with an additional 1-1 exact scoreline bet.
Before you dismiss this strategy out of hand, allow me to explain.
The board this week is rather peculiar. There is a multitude of matches with home sides receiving plus-money odds as they face off against stronger opposition. While MLS is notorious for its home-field advantage, none of these home teams quite exactly give me the warm and fuzzies.
However, there are plenty of matchups this week where the pairings scream a low-scoring affair with a high probability of finishing in a draw. On average, 11.2% of MLS matches end in a 1-1 draw. That means a typical matchday results in one or two matches ending in such a scoreline.
This week, more so than any other, has matches set up for such a scoreline based on the particular contests featuring combinations of struggling attacks, stout defenses, and missing pieces. Having identified several prime candidates for a low-scoring draw, we can finish with a net gain, even if we accurately predict just one scoreline.
Colorado v. Philadelphia
Both Colorado and Philadelphia spent Tuesday on the road in the U.S. Open Cup. For the Rapids, it was a 4 – 2 victory at Sacramento Republic. The Union, however, lost on penalty kicks to Minnesota United. Despite a heavily rotated starting XI, the game state forced Philadelphia to bring in reinforcements resulting in heavier-than-anticipated workloads. It adds additional weight on the legs of a squad that already spent the last month competing in continental competition.
Colorado is undefeated in its last seven matches, five of which have been draws. During that stretch, only once has Colorado conceded more than one goal. In a lot of ways, the Rapids have returned to their DNA as a defensively solid team that seeks to nick goals through set pieces and counterattacks.
After yet another midweek game and a weekend at altitude, I am expecting a rugged Philadelphia performance that aims more to ensure the Union picks up a point in a difficult environment rather than press their way to a pyrrhic victory.
Draw (+210) 0.5 unit
Correct Score 1-1 (+525) 0.5 unit
New York Red Bulls v. New York City FC
The New York Red Bulls parted ways with Gerhard Struber this week. On the heels of a coach termination, there is some evidence to suggest that the new manager bounce is a legitimate phenomenon. It is not guaranteed and the “bounce” is ordinarily coupled with a move to more simplified tactics that focus on defensive solidity. In the Red Bulls’ case, the issue is the lack of attacking ideas outside of route one longballs. That evolution will take longer to develop than a couple of midweek training sessions.
I will stick with what we know about the teams, as is.
The Red Bulls have drawn 5 of their 11 matches in 2023, and have scored the second-fewest number of goals (7). While the underlying numbers (15.11 xG) paint a rosier picture, it would not be the first time that the Red Bulls significantly undershot their expected tally.
On the other side of the Hudson River, New York City remains winless on the road and has yet to solve its striker question. The Cityzens average only 1.18 goals per match, slightly better than their 1.10 xG per 96 minutes.
This is a Hudson River Derby with two teams struggling to score and a Red Bulls defense with the second-fewest goals conceded on the year. There is every reason to believe a low-scoring draw is the most likely outcome.
Draw (+220) 0.5 unit
Correct Score 1-1 (+550) 0.5 unit
Atlanta United v. Charlotte FC
Atlanta United is on a bit of a skid having lost three straight. The streak coincides with Giorgos Giakoumakis who has been absent with a muscular strain. The Greek forward is returning from injury but should only play a limited role.
When Giakoumakis is on the field, Atlanta United’s expected goal differential improves by 0.91 xG per match. With inadequate depth behind him, Atlanta suffers when he is unavailable.
Now, these two clubs met previously this season. Atlanta raced out to a 3-0 first-half lead in Charlotte before Giakoumakis had even touched the field.
However, that was a different Charlotte. Christian Lattanzio was still experimenting with overly complicated patterns and Karol Świderski as a right winger. Since then, Świderski has shifted back into the #10 role that best suits his skill set and Charlotte has simplified its approach. The Crown is 3-3-2 since that Atlanta beatdown.
In this match, I don’t foresee Charlotte making the same mistakes as the last meeting that left their flanks more exposed than the creepy old guy in a gym locker room. I expect Charlotte to sit back and force Atlanta to break down a compacted block, a task the Five Stripes have struggled with this year. With Enzo Copetti suspended and also missing for Charlotte, both teams should struggle to score.
The books continue to overvalue Atlanta despite recent struggles, I will chase the odds on a low-scoring draw.
Draw (+320) 0.5 unit
Correct Score 1-1 (+725) 0.5 unit
If you are forcing me to bet on Nashville…
There is no denying, Nashville is on a mini-tear. They have won four straight matches and are unbeaten in five. However, all of those games have been played at GEODIS Park. Tomorrow, Nashville makes its first road trip in nearly one month as they head to the nation’s capital. Away from home, Nashville has been less convincing (1-1-2) in 2023.
D.C. United may not be world-beaters, but Wayne Rooney has this team playing competent soccer. In recent weeks, D.C. United has switched to a 3-5-2 formation which has largely yielded better results, albeit against weaker competition. But winning the winnable matches is exactly the type of results a club needs to avoid a repeated Wooden Spoon.
The larger key to this match may be who is missing. Walker Zimmerman has been absent for Nashville’s last two matches. If he is unavailable or is on a minutes count, I worry about NSC’s ability to keep Christian Benteke in check. Frankly, the hulking forward creates a matchup problem for the shorter Lukas MacNaughton and the more slender Jack Maher.
Luckily for Nashville, the absences of Andy Najar and Pedro Santos eliminates two of D.C. United’s best crossing threats.
This match sets up for another low-scoring affair. While it would not at all surprise me to see Nashville come out ahead, a draw is a more likely result.
Draw (+230) 0.5 unit
Correct Score 1-1 (+550) 0.5 unit
MLS Fantasy Tip of the Week
Consider this, there is an MLS #10 that is averaging 5.5 points per match with his current team and only costs $6.8 million. Any idea who it is?
The answer is CF Montréal’s Bryce Duke (MTL – MF – $6.8m).
Since arriving via trade with Inter Miami, Montréal handed the youngster the #10 shirt and a starting spot operating in an advanced position.
After a brief warming-up period, Duke has generated goal contributions in each of his last two matches. Both of those outings saw Duke finish with six or more fantasy points (the line of demarcation for an acceptable fantasy starter). It’s a tally that should rise as he integrates more fully into the side.
This weekend, Montréal hosts Toronto FC. These two rivals played out a bitter affair in the Canadian Championship earlier in the week with the Impact advancing 2-1 away to Toronto. At home, against a weak Toronto defense, there is good reason to believe that Duke can find either a goal or an assist.
With an Eastern Time Zone kickoff and low salary figure, Duke is a prime bench play this week for an MLS Fantasy switcheroo. If he pops off for six points or more, then allow him to substitute in for a scratched player using an automatic substitution. However, if Duke has a disappointing night, you will not have significantly hurt your budget to spend elsewhere.
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