Junior v Jaguares
Junior have got their house in order at long last. It may not endure very long, but there has been a marked difference in performances and results since disciplinarian manager Hernan Dario Gomez took over from sacked rookie coach Arturo Reyes back in March when the Barranquilla club were bottom of the league.
Gomez is a legendary figure in Colombian football after playing his part, along with his sidekick Francisco Maturana, in crafting some of the country’s finest hours at the top table of world football way back in the 1990s. He commands respect and has authority, but in 2023 he remains very old school. His motto of grit, hard-work and passion has been combined with a return to the basics.
It’s not particularly innovative, but when you have one of the most talented and expensive squads in the land at your disposal that’s usually enough to get the job done.
Even without their injured star man, Juan Fernando Quintero, who is easily the best paid player in Colombian football, Junior have won three out of their last four. Interestingly, Gomez has taken the bold call to drop goalkeeper Sebastian Viera, a club legend who is now well past his best and is rumoured to wield an unhealthy influence in the changing room.
That’s one of the benefits of commanding such respect, especially when such polemic changes provide an immediate return of good results. While Junior are still far from the team they should be given their resources, they are now, at least, controlling games and defensively sound.
Goals at the other end are still hard to come by and it will be interesting to see what happens when the wizardry of Quintero’s left foot is added to the mix. But against a Jaguares side who haven’t won on the road all season, and come off the back of a 3-0 trouncing against Alianza Petrolera, piling on the home win here is a fairly sure bet.
New England Revolution v Sporting Kansas City
There is another round of MLS matches taking place in the early hours of Sunday morning and one team who will be expected to win are the New England Revolution, who host a Sporting Kansas City side who are seeing their problems mount a little too high for comfort.
The first issue that Sporting Kansas City have is that they are still looking for their first win of the campaign having gone winless through their opening eight matches.
Another problem is that they are struggling at both ends of the pitch. They have only found the net twice in those outings and conceded on 11 occasions. They have found three draws from those matches but didn’t score in any of them and you would imagine if they don’t find the net here, and the long-term injury to Willy Agada isn’t going to help them in that regard, then they are going to come away from Gillette Stadium empty-handed.
The Revolution are looking much more like the team which dominated the 2021 regular season and have already made their way to the top of the Eastern Conference courtesy of five wins and two draws from their opening eight matches.
The loss they suffered was away to Los Angeles FC which certainly isn’t a disaster, but on their home pitch they have three wins from four, each win coming without conceding.
With Carles Gil becoming more of a factor now he is fit and Giacomo Vrioni starting to mould into the number nine that Adam Buksa was when New England were successful, I expect Bruce Arena’s men to go from strength to strength and that can continue with a win here against an SKC side who have far too many problems to solve.
Cruzeiro v Gremio
Two huge clubs who earned promotion from Serie B last season, lock horns at the Arena Independência in Belo Horizonte, as Cruzeiro host Grêmio, in what promises to be a tasty affair on Sunday morning.
In the meetings last season, Cruzeiro enjoyed a narrow 1-0 victory at home, whilst the game in Porto Alegre saw a cracking 2-2 draw.
Cruzeiro come into the match in poor form and are looking to improve, manager, Pepa has only been in charge since March 2023 after Paulo Pezzolano left to join Spanish club Real Valladolid. Pepa has led Cruzeiro for two matches, losing both, first in the Copa do Brasil to Nautico and Corinthians on the opening weekend. Both fixtures were away matches and he’ll now be hoping that a home crowd can help inspire his side to victory.
The side from Belo Horizonte in the match against Corinthians enjoyed the main share of the ball, but could only manage two shots on Cassio’s goal, something they’ll be desperate to improve on in this duel. Their low XG of 0.54 compared to Timao’s 1.69, shows there’s plenty of room for improvement.
Forward Henrique Dourado could make his debut here after joining from Chinese side, Henan F.C. Raposa (Foxes) will be without the injured Fernando Henrique.
Whilst Cruzeiro struggled on opening day, the same can’t be said about Gremio who enjoyed a 1-0 victory over Santos. The match, dubbed a home game for Gremio, was played at the Estadio Alfredo Jaconi due to Gremio picking up a three-game stadium ban at the end of last season.
Gremio racked up an XG of 1.73 compared to Santos’ 1.36, which shows they were well worth their win. Immortal Tricolor are now unbeaten in their previous five matches, a run which has seen them taste victory in their last three.
Ferreira, Reinaldo, Diego Souza, Pedro Geromel, Pepe, Fabio, Villasatni, Jhonata Rober and Jhonata Varela all miss the clash due to injuries.
Despite Gremio being in great form and Cruzeiro struggling, away wins have been rare to come by in Brazil in recent years. With both sides not scoring freely and impartially Cruzeiro, a likely outcome in this game, is that they will be under 2.5 goals scored.
Houston Dynamo v Inter Miami CF
The Houston Dynamo continue their surprisingly positive start to the season on Sunday morning when they host an Inter Miami side, who are still having to navigate their way through a choppy patch while their roster settles down a little.
I think it was to be expected that the Dynamo would improve this term under Ben Olsen but maybe not as quickly as they have. Houston still have issues to solve on their travels but the important thing they have done in the early stages of the Olsen reign is make the Shell Energy Stadium something of a fortress.
Houston have won all three matches on home soil this term without conceding a goal and are clearly enjoying life on their own patch. They are only going to get better too the more that Amine Bassi and Adalberto Carrasquilla continue to adjust to the league and build combinations in the heart of that team. Houston have key man Hector Herrera back from a ban for this one too.
In contrast, Inter Miani are one of the teams who have some problems to solve. Gregore, their key midfielder, is done for the year and since he went down they have lost five straight matches and only scored in one of them.
They recently allowed Bryce Duke and Ariel Lassiter, two attack minded players, to head to Montreal in exchange for Kamal Miller, which might shore them up a little but does detract from the options they have in front of goal, which can’t be ideal in a league which is becoming higher scoring by the season.
That is reflected by the fact that Miami have been on their travels for three matches this term, lost the lot and haven’t scored a goal in any of those matches.
It has almost been lost given the need to replace Gregore but Miami need Josef Martinez to start doing his thing soon else that will quickly become another issue.
This travel problem is nothing new for Miami. They only won four away games last season so have won just four of their last 20 MLS away games and now head to a team looking good and building continuity with each game. I expect a Houston win here.
LA Galaxy v Austin FC
Later into the early hours of Sunday morning all eyes will be on the Carson side of Los Angeles for the second weekend in succession when LA Galaxy take on Austin FC, in a clash which pits two Western Conference teams who much was expected of this term together, but who have flattered to deceive to date.
LA Galaxy go into this match still looking for their first win of the campaign but there were positives to take from last week, even in defeat in ‘El Trafico’ to rivals LAFC.
For the first time this season Galaxy looked like they had a real goal threat. The pace and movement in behind the defence that Javier Hernandez brings to the side immediately creates space for Riqui Puig to do his thing and it would be a big surprise were Galaxy not to kick on from here.
The problem they have, as LAFC exploited ruthlessly, is their defence can be exposed too easily by a team who hunt the ball high up and who have quality in offensive areas, which Austin FC do.
To be fair, we haven’t seen even half of the capability of the Austin FC attack this season but this might well be the time where it comes alive. Sebastian Driussi is crying out for some space to work in when playing the number 10 role and the Galaxy are likely to oblige in that regard, while the Austin wide players should be licking their lips are going up against the attack minded LA Galaxy full-backs.
Both teams could really do with a win here so I am expecting to see goals in this one. I’ve highlighted the Galaxy defensive woes and have regularly mentioned the problems Austin have with their defensive roster, so two classy attacks should have everything they need to combine for over 2.5 goals here.
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