Sunday morning’s football is dominated by the MLS, with four of our six best bets coming from the States and Canada, including runaway Eastern Conference leaders FC Cincinnati.
We also have a couple of South American fixtures, with the Paraguayan and Colombian top flights really beginning to heat up. There are play-off games in Colombia and Paraguay’s Apertura season is also drawing to a close, before the Clausura season begins in a couple of weeks.
Nacional v Tacuary
Nacional continue to rack up points, 11 from a possible 15, in a strong end to the season, whilst Tacuary finally ended their four game losing run with a win over Luqueño in midweek.
Pedro Sarabia has managed to turn things around in the second half of the season, picking up 18 points in the last ten matches compared to just 12 in the first ten. One reason for the change is the goalscoring, having only netted 8 times in those opening ten games they have since racked up 12 with Juan Alfaro scoring four in the last seven. Sebastian Vargas is suspended but otherwise they have a full squad.
Tacuary have been very much an all or nothing side under new manager Iván Almeida who hasn’t drawn any of his 11 matches. Three of his four wins have seen the side score three goals and they have conceded 3+ in three of their seven defeats. Óscar Ruiz has been the start from the left hand side providing four goal involvements in his last five matches.
The last game between these two was a 0-0 draw, but Nacional’s recent home form has seen then pick up three wins from five. Conversely Tacuary have suffered on the road in their last five, only winning in Guaireña while losing the other four scoring once.
Independiente Medellin v Boyacá Chicó
Boyacá Chicó have done it again. Their last-gasp midweek victory in the reverse group leg of this fixture kept their title hopes alive and extended their unbeaten run at their high-altitude Tunja home this year. But yet again, the stats suggest they rode their luck. DIM’s xG was 0.49 goals higher than Chicó, which has been a familiar story all season.
Chicó are slumped well down the xG ranking of all 20 top-flight teams for the quality of their chances created in 2023. They are an anomaly for the amount of goals they score from low probability chances. A league high of nine out of 26 goals (35%) that the Tunja side have scored have come from outside the box, quite often from the powerful right foot of Venezuelan centre back Henry Plazas.
Chicó know that their high-altitude home ground adds an unexpected trajectory to the ball’s movements. And they exploit this tactic to the maximum, a bit like Bolivia do when they welcome other South American sides to La Paz for international games. However, like Bolivia, Chicó’s form on the road is pretty miserable. They are a limited side and, in reality, should be fighting a relegation battle rather than a league title.
In their last nine away games, they’ve failed to win a single one. And for a hint of what kind of game we should expect here, look no further than their last two away games: both goalless with Chicó creating a combined xG of 0.54.
Sucking the life out of games, gambling on a punt from distance or a cleverly worked set-piece, is a simplistic yet fairly accurate summary of Chicó’s tactical plan on the road. They know their defence stands tall. Very well organised and with players that work tirelessly to close down the spaces, Chicó have conceded fewer goals than their xG indicates. The best team in the country, Millonarios, found out just how hard it is to break them down when labouring to a 1-0 home win a week ago.
Against DIM here, it will be a predictably backs-to-the-wall, grit-and-grind performance. Medellín will have to be at their very sharpest to prise them open. But with Chicó’s last six games featuring two goals or fewer, the smart money should again point to backing under 2.5 here.
FC Cincinnati v Chicago Fire
A busy run of fixtures in the MLS continues in the early hours of Sunday morning, and the seemingly runaway Supporters’ Shield leaders FC Cincinnati are in action, when they host a Chicago Fire side, who just can’t seem to find any consistency.
Cincinnati have powered clear in the race for the Supporters’ Shield, opening up an eight point gap with their win in New York in midweek. That was their fifth straight win in MLS and another here would have them in complete control in the quest for what many consider to be the hardest piece of silverware to win.
Cincinnati have played 15 matches in MLS and have only lost one. Worryingly for the rest of the league, they look like they are finding their groove at both ends of the pitch and look to be the team to beat right now.
Chicago are finding beating anyone difficult at the minute. They have only won one of their last nine matches and that was against a St Louis side who were about to go into a bit of a slump so even that isn’t the best form guide there has been.
Chicago are finding keeping goals out of their net difficult. Prior to a 0-0 draw in Toronto in midweek, Chicago had conceded eight goals in three matches and in truth Toronto had chances to put more in the Fire net (Toronto had an xG of 2.00 in the game) but couldn’t take the opportunities.
I expect a more ruthless Cincinnati to take their chances and with their strong defence I don’t see them conceding enough opportunities for the Fire to get anything from this one.
Philadelphia Union v CF Montreal
The top two in the final standings in the Eastern Conference last season meet at Subaru Park in the early hours of Sunday morning when the Philadelphia Union play host to CF Montreal, with the home side looking to continue their fine form.
I think most judges expected Philadelphia to come back to something like the form they showed last year once they were knocked out of the Champions League and that has very much been the case. They head into this match with six wins in their last seven matches and probably should have won the game they drew in that time against DC United.
Montreal have gone better than it looked like they might in the early stages of the season but their away form doesn’t make good reading. They have only won one match on their travels and that was in Kansas City, who were hitting rock bottom at the time.
Around that, they have picked up just one point in their other eight away matches and that came in midweek where they were getting dominated by DC United until a crazy three minutes saw them score twice to come from 2-0 down to draw 2-2.
There is a case to be made that going to Philadelphia is the hardest test in MLS right now and it is one I don’t expect Montreal to pass positively.
St Louis City v Houston Dynamo
Over in the Western Conference, the expansion team St Louis City SC will be looking to move to the top of the table when they play host to Houston Dynamo in an intriguing clash.
St Louis City flew out of the traps this season, then they hit the buffers while they came to terms with having to play without star striker Joao Klauss and now having figured things out they are back to looking good again, especially at Citypark.
Houston will head to St Louis, which with the atmosphere at Citypark is becoming one of the toughest places for away teams to go, without a road win in MLS this season and having just conceded six goals in a defeat to Vancouver Whitecaps.
Houston now have to go from playing in Canada to in Missouri within 72 hours of each other and clearly that is not good preparation. This would have been a tough assignment at the best of times let alone looking to bounce back from a mauling.
What makes it even worse for the Dynamo is St Louis City had the midweek off and haven’t played since last weekend, when they were too good for the very same Whitecaps who have just done an absolute job on Houston.
The St Louis high press catches teams out regularly let alone ones who might be a bit leggy after their midweek exertions. It is hard to see beyond a home win in this one.
Vancouver Whitecaps v Sporting Kansas City
The final match to kick off in the early hours of Sunday morning does so at BC Place where the Vancouver Whitecaps will look to build on their emphatic midweek win when they host Sporting Kansas City.
When you look at the season record of the Vancouver Whitecaps, which currently reads 5-5-5, it tells you all you need to know about their consistency, but they have actually performed better to the eye than that record would suggest.
They will quite rightly be quick to point out that at home they are 5-2-1 after their midweek demolition of the Houston Dynamo with 19 goals scored and just the seven against, so their issues from a consistency standpoint are on the road.
Sporting Kansas City didn’t win any of their first 10 games in MLS this term but to their credit they have won four of their last six and are beginning to show a real upturn in form.
Those four wins are genuine too with them coming against Seattle, Portland, Minnesota and Dallas, three teams who were in the top six heading into midweek and one who are expected to come good in the second part of the campaign.
Given the start they had, SKC don’t have the option to rotate players or play for draws so I’m expecting something of an open game here, one which should contain plenty of goal opportunities at both ends.
Five of the last six matches for both of these teams have had more than 2.5 goals in them, and for each the one which didn’t cover that line had exactly two, so they are not averse to high scoring matches.
Both these teams look to be coming to the boil nicely and I would be surprised if they don’t combine for more than 2.5 goals here.
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