Sunday morning’s football is dominated by the MLS, with four of our five best bets coming from the States and Canada.
Many of the traditional big hitters in the MLS have been struggling this season, with 5-time league champions LA Galaxy bottom of the Western Conference, and former champions and two-time runners-up Toronto FC sitting rock-bottom of the East.
We also have one game from Colombia where the league has now broken off into two groups for the Apertura play-offs.
Rionegro Aguilas v Deportivo Pasto
The heat is on Águilas here to bounce back from their barmy 5-3 defeat away at Alianza Petrolera in their last game. While that was the first time Águilas have ever conceded five goals in a top-flight game, as their manager Lucas González rightly pointed out in his post-match analysis: “we kept attacking because goal difference simply doesn’t matter.”
That’s the case because Águilas hold the “invisible point” in this semi-final group stage meaning they will automatically finish above any team they finish level on points with due to a bonus picked up for finishing top of the regular season.
González also explained that they struggled more than usual in the Alianza defeat because their star centre back, Jeison Quiñónes, who has been one of the best defenders in the division this season, limped off injured on 17 minutes and Alianza were cunningly effective in exploiting this flaw in Rionegro’s aerial game, sending on striker Pablo Bueno with a simple plan: dominate the aerial battle.
That he did, scoring two headers as Alianza sprung one of the surprises of the season in battling back from two goals down to beat the team whom many consider the most impressive side in the Colombian league in 2023.
As I’ve long pointed out though, for all Rionegro’s attacking verve, easy-on-the-eye football and impressive organisation, they do have a tender underbelly. Their risk-seeking game plan is to throw caution to the wind and attack with six or seven players. Against teams who are able to counter them with pace upon recovering the ball, Rionegro often come unstuck.
Five of their last six games have featured more than three goals and they have conceded more than a goal a game so far this season. Now, with the additional factor of “goal difference not mattering” and with striker Marco Pérez leading the goal-scoring charts and in rich form, it’s a fairly simple call to pill on overs against Pasto, the weakest team in this group.
Indeed, the price of 2.3 for more than 2.5 goals is very tempting, but I would advise balancing this bet by taking the 1.40 for over 1.5 goals to add a banker to your accumulator.
New England Revolution v Chicago Fire
Another set of matches in the MLS season begin in the early hours of Sunday morning when the New England Revolution welcome Chicago Fire to the Gillette Stadium for what might be a defining match for both.
The Revolution head into this one having lost their last three in all competitions, the first in the US Open Cup with a changed team and the last two in MLS but both were away from home and crucially were without the services of Carles Gil, their inspiration who could return for this match.
Chicago Fire are having a more improved season but in the main that has been at Soldier Field and they are on their travels here. Those travels might well have some heavy legs attached to them because the Fire were in US Open Cup action in midweek and didn’t make many changes for the win over Austin FC.
That makes their task a little tougher here but that is even more the case when you consider that New England are undefeated at home this season. Throw in the mix having one of the best creators in MLS back in their ranks and the home win looks attractive.
New England are around 1.75 for the win. I sense their form is factored into that, but winning in Miami and Philadelphia as an away side is not an easy task for anyone. Take those results out and New England have gone as well as anyone this season and I like the home win here.
Toronto FC v DC United
It is not just in America where the MLS matches are taking place this weekend as Toronto FC host DC United up in Canada in a match where the home side could be really up against it as their tough start to the season looks set to continue.
The red machine has been guilty of malfunctioning so far this term. There are injuries which have had an impact on that but at the same time they just can’t seem to settle and deliver on a style which allows them to get results.
If things weren’t going badly enough for Toronto FC with just two wins in 15 matches in all competitions this term, designated player Federico Bernardeschi has been left out of the squad for this match for an internal issue. A team who have scored just 13 times in 14 matches really doesn’t need to be missing a star man right now.
DC United are a much improved outfit this term. Wayne Rooney has recruited really well in the off season and his players are beginning to respond to a change in tactic which has seen them get the ball into Christian Benteke a lot quicker than they used to.
The fact that such a move goes against the natural instincts of Rooney shows how he is happy to develop himself and with the likes of Taxi Fountas and Steven Birnbaum back this week, DC have a much bigger pool of players to choose from.
Encouragingly, in a league where away wins are hard to come by, DC have already won in Montreal and Orlando this term and picked up draws in Chicago and Philadelphia. DC beat Toronto on the opening weekend of the season too and that makes me think if there is a winner in this game it will be them.
St. Louis City v Vancouver Whitecaps
Moving over to the Western Conference, there is a potentially exciting clash between the early pacesetters St Louis City SC and the much improved Vancouver Whitecaps.
St Louis City flew out of the traps this season when they won their opening five matches, but like a number of expansion sides they have found the going a little tough and have just two victories in their last seven.
One of those was last week though when they moved back to the high press which took the league by storm in the opening month of the campaign and they look like a side who can put anyone to the sword in that shape, with or without star forward Joao Klauss.
The Vancouver Whitecaps are very much a team on the up and rebounded from a couple of road losses last week when they came out on top against Seattle Sounders in a rivalry clash in the Cascadia Cup.
They should have drawn plenty of confidence from that so I expect to see something of an open game here. I don’t foresee St Louis going back into their shell after that brilliant derby win last week and with Vancouver having only failed to score once on the road this term, I think these two entertaining teams can combine for more than 2.5 goals in this one.
Five of the six MLS matches inside this stadium have had more than 2.5 goals and that trend can continue here.
LA Galaxy v Charlotte FC
There are not too many matches on Sunday morning where teams from each Conference meet but one where that is the case comes along in California where LA Galaxy will look to move themselves off the bottom of the West when they host Charlotte FC.
Galaxy are in a bit of a state. They have won just two of 13 matches in MLS this term, losing eight of those, but there have been signs of life in home games recently.
They have won two and lost three of their last five home matches but they have scored in all of them and have generally offered encouragement going forward, which in this league is the first thing you look for.
They now go up against a Charlotte team for whom goals in their matches seem to come naturally. There have been 44 of them in the 14 MLS matches they have played this term and all bar one of their last nine games have had more than 2.5 goals in them.
Four of the last five LA Galaxy home games have had over 2.5 goals too and with the two sides having conceded a ridiculous 48 goals between them this season, I expect goals to come here too, particularly with the attacking players that are on the pitch in the likes of Javier Hernandez, Riqui Puig, Justin Meram and Karol Swiderski.
In all, 18 of the 27 matches these two have been involved in this season have had more than 2.5 goals in it. This one can add itself to the list.
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