Los Angeles FC v San Jose Earthquakes
The opening game of the MLS weekend comes from the Banc of California Stadium as the Western Conference leaders Los Angeles FC host the San Jose Earthquakes in what is sure to be an entertaining encounter.
LAFC are back to looking like the real deal and after their demise in the US Open Cup in midweek to rivals LA Galaxy they can now put all their attention into their MLS campaign. San Jose were humbled by the Sacramento Republic in the US Open Cup which might have dented their confidence after a four-match unbeaten burst in MLS.
I expect Los Angeles to rebound from their disappointment here. Although they were stronger than in previous rounds of the cup, LAFC kept some personnel back and one thing which is going to boost them over the coming weeks is the return to fitness of Brian Rodriguez. There is all sorts of suggestions he could be moving to Serie A so he’ll be out to prove himself and land a dream transfer.
San Jose Earthquakes just can’t stop conceding goals. They have shipped 29 goals in their 13 MLS matches and 10 of those have come in their last three away outings. They do score goals though and although their midweek loss will have hurt, they made a number of changes and will be fresh for this one.
LAFC can be deadly in front of goal and they could feast on this San Jose defence but to the Quakes’ credit they have scored 23 in 13 in MLS this season. I expect these two to combine for over 2.5 goals here.
CF Montreal vs FC Cincinnati
Two Eastern Conference sides who are having surprisingly good seasons meet at the Saputo Stadium on Saturday night when CF Montreal play host to FC Cincinnati in a match which offers both the chance to improve on their top six position in the table.
While both teams are enjoying good campaigns so far, both go into this match off the back of a loss last time out in MLS. Montreal were beaten by Real Salt Lake while Cincinnati were knocked off by the Supporters’ Shield holders New England Revolution.
Both teams were competitive in those matches though and that is what I expect from them here. I think this is one of those matches where both teams will fancy their chances of winning. One of the reasons for the success they are enjoying this term is their improvement in front of goal.
Montreal have Djordje Mihailovic who has seven goals and three assists on the season while Cincinnati have Luciano Acosta pulling the strings for them. The classy Argentine has five goals to his name this term.
There is much more purpose in these two in attacking areas this season but that comes at more of a defensive openness and I think both teams have the players to exploit the space which will come their way. I think we’ll get over 2.5 goals in this one.
Orlando City v FC Dallas
FC Dallas are coming off their first consecutive league defeats. But they’re traveling to Central Florida on a full week of rest to face an Orlando City side that required penalties to triumph over Inter Miami in a midweek U.S. Open Cup clash.
And although Dallas have seen their form slide following a nine-match unbeaten run, they’ve not exactly been played off the pitch. Manager Nico Estevez’s side were denied a point by a needless (but correctly awarded) late penalty in a 2-1 loss at the Vancouver Whitecaps.
And they were inefficient with their chances in a 2-1 loss to Minnesota United that marked their first home defeat of the year. Further, Dallas’ verticality and excellence in transition could pose a problem for an Orlando City side that has struggled against similar opponents.
Orlando were held without an effort on target at home in a 3-0 home defeat to the New York Red Bulls a few weeks back. Their earlier 4-2 home defeat to LAFC is another example of a loss to a good transitional team. And the Lions will be short-handed even before accounting for any squad rotation. Facundo Torres exited the midweek cup tie with an early injury in that affair and could miss out.
Center back Rodrigo Schlegel and holding midfielder Cesar Araujo should be out to red card suspensions after their dismissals from a 2-2 league draw at Austin FC last weekend. Dallas aren’t quite as polished as the Red Bulls or LAFC. But this is a good matchup for them to get a result, and I like playing them to earn at least a draw.
Minnesota United v New York City FC
New York City FC have the most unique home field advantage in MLS on a Yankee Stadium pitch that is easily the most compact in the league. But because of their groundshare with the New York Yankees, the Cityzens have spent a solid portion of their home schedule playing at surrogate venues.
The Cityzens have scored 20 goals in five league matches at Yankee Stadium and six goals in three games at Citi Field. And that disparity suggests there might also be something to their much more modest and conservative away form.
City have only played four away fixtures so far, earning only four points. Three of those four games have seen two or fewer goals scored, with an average of 2.25 xG per game created over those four matches between NYCFC and their opponents.
Minnesota have playedtheir more open football at home. But they also are challenged in the striking position — Robin Lod’s service as a false nine notwithstanding — and have one of the league’s most in-form goalkeepers in Dayne St. Clair. And they may approach a visit from the defending MLS Cup champs with a cagey mindset. Four of Minnesota’s seven home matches have finished with two or fewer goals scored.
Both teams also played in the U.S. Open Cup in midweek, which may deplete the attacks a bit more than the defenses. Combine it all and there’s good reason to play the total under 2.5 goals here at better than even money.
Colorado Rapids v Nashville SC
There are a few all-Western Conference clashes this weekend and one of them comes from the fortress that is Dick’s Sporting Goods Park where the Colorado Rapids play host to Nashville SC in a match which we could easily see again when the postseason comes around later in the season.
The Rapids go into this match with the best home record in the Western Conference. That is no surprise because they very rarely get beaten on their own patch and have made this ground one of the hardest places in MLS to go to.
They have won five matches and drawn two without defeat at home this term and in those seven outings they have conceded just the one goal, so they will be more than comfortable in front of their own fans.
To be fair to Nashville SC, they are one of the better teams on the road in the competition but they are without a win in three on their travels this term and are starting to get stuck between a team that needs to attack and one which is looking to keep things tight.
The Rapids have no such issues and if they could just find some away wins they would be right up near the top of the Western Conference table. That will have to wait but while they go in search of those elusive away wins they can pick up another victory in front of their own supporters in this match.
Sporting Kansas City v Vancouver Whitecaps
Another match which comes exclusively from the Western Conference comes at Children’s Mercy Park where Sporting Kansas City host fellow strugglers Vancouver Whitecaps in a match both will be looking at as one they need to win.
These two sit in the bottom two in the West and one of the reasons for that is their inability to keep the ball out of the back of their net. Vancouver have shipped 23 in 12 games in MLS this term while for SKC it is 25 in 14.
Both teams do carry a goal threat though so I’m expecting to see a few goals scored here. Kansas City have Jonny Russell who is just starting to come to the boil while the Whitecaps will be eager for Lucas Cavallini to show his best stuff before he heads off on international duty.
Sporting Kansas City home matches have been high scoring this season. Three of the last four have had over 2.5 goals in them and I expect this one to be added to the list. Vancouver are terrible travellers and having picked up a single point on their journeys this season and in their six away games have leaked 16 goals.
This looks like a good chance for Sporting Kansas City to get back on track but I don’t trust them defensively so I’ll take over 2.5 goals in this one.
Real Salt Lake v Houston Dynamo
At about 4,000 feet above sea level, Rio Tinto Stadium has always provided Real Salt Lake with one of the more underrated MLS home field advantages.
That edge has been more pronounced since Pablo Mastroeni took the managerial reigns last September. Since then, the Claret-and-Cobalt have won eight of their 11 home league fixtures.
And although they have been relatively light in attacking talent in 2022, reinforcements are coming. Damir Kreilach, a 16-goal scorer in 2021, will eventually return from nagging back issues. And the club secured returns for Anderson Julio and Jefferson Savarino before the league primary transfer window closed this May.
One or more of those could feature against a Houston Dynamo side that surprised a lot of people around the league with their 3-0 win at the LA Galaxy last weekend.
But this will be a third consecutive away match for the Dynamo after a midweek U.S. Open Cup loss to Sporting Kansas City.
And their mediocre away form is worse than it looks when you consider their opponents. Two of their three league defeats came at sides well below the current playoff qualifying lines in Kansas City and D.C. United. One of two away victories came at Inter Miami prior to Neville’s pivotal decision to drop Gonzalo Higuain in favor of Leonardo Campana.
In a league where your average home team takes three points half the time, Salt Lake would appear to have an additional edge., Take them on the money line.
LA Galaxy v Austin FC
If there’s one common trait of Greg Vanney’s 2021 and 2022 LA Galaxy teams, it’s that they’ve performed better away than at home.
In 2021, the final records home and away were about what you’d expect from a mid-table MLS side, with the Galaxy taking 29 of their 48 points at Dignity Health Sports Park. But LA finished third-worst in the Western Conference in their home expected goals difference at only +2.1 over 17 matches. Their away xG difference of -6.0 was sixth out of 14 West sides.
In 2022, the numbers have skewed even further with a +2.0 xG difference away and a -0.6 xG difference at home. This time the results also reflect that, with 11 points earned away and nine earned at home.
If there’s a reason for all this, it’s in how Vanney’s roster is constructed, without a ton of engine-room types in the attacking midfield. Chicharito is a poacher. Douglas Costa, Kevin Cabral and Samuel Grandsir are wide players. Victor Vazquez is no longer a 90-minute player at his age, while Mark Delgado and Rayan Raveloson are more defenders in the center of the park than connectors.
Austin has been arguably the Western Conference’s best home side in 2022, but that shouldn’t obscure their growing ability to pick up points away with a haul of 10 points from six fixtures.
In Sebastian Driussi, Los Verdes have the current leader in the MLS MVP race. And they’re also coming into the fixture with a full week of rest while the Galaxy played most of their regulars in a derby U.S. Open Cup tie against LAFC on Wednesday night.
At even money, the visitors are a solid play to earn at least a point.
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