Sunday morning’s football takes place in the US alongside Colombia. Matches will be played across the MLS, with Rooney’s DC United likely to use the most of Benteke against a weakened Real Salt Lake, with a frontline missing for international duty. This weekend sees a vital group decider play out, with points necessary for Nacional to clinch a spot in the play-off phase in Categoría Primera A.
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D.C. United v Real Salt Lake
There is a truncated set of fixtures in the MLS this weekend with most of the world playing out a series of international matches but one game which has survived the cull comes from the host venue for next month’s All Star Game as Audi Field stages the match between DC United and Real Salt Lake.
The home side have largely avoided international call ups so they will be looking to get back on the horse after an indifferent period on the road. They will be without Taxi Fountas but he has been in and out of the side while he has been nursed back to full fitness anyway. Importantly for Wayne Rooney, he does have top scorer Christian Benteke at his disposal.
Real Salt Lake will have their attacking resources tested for this match with the likes of Jefferson Savarino, Rubio Rubin and Anderson Julio all on international duty, so the likes of Damir Kreilach will be utilised further forward.
Just because they are missing some attackers doesn’t mean that Real Salt Lake have no chance here. They are one of the better road teams in MLS, which is ironic when you consider how hard it is for visiting teams to play at Rio Tinto Stadium.
There is a buzz around Real Salt Lake after the signing of Chicho Araujo and although he doesn’t get the official nod to start until next month, his impact around the place is having a positive effect.
Positive is a word I would use to describe both of these teams right now and with physical aerial threats on both teams and some pacey players around them, I think expecting both teams to find the net is the way forward in this one.
The last four DC games have seen both teams score, while four of the last five involving Real Salt Lake have had both teams finding the net. Expect this to continue those trends.
New England Revolution v Orlando City SC
There is only one match in the early hours of Sunday morning which pits two Eastern Conference teams together and it sees New England Revolution hosting Orlando City SC at Gillette Stadium.
Ordinarily, this would be a really good contest because both teams are in great form right now but the Revolution look to have a massive advantage based on international call ups.
Orlando will be without Pedro Gallese for this one. He is arguably the best keeper in MLS and the Lions are a different side entirely without him between the sticks.
He isn’t the only one missing for the Floridians though. They will also be without dynamic attacker Facundo Torres, Wilder Cartagena and Wilfredo Rivera, who are also with their countries. If that isn’t enough starting defenders Kyle Smith and Antonio Carlos will also be missing due to yellow card accumulation rendering them suspended.
New England will be missing another top goalkeeper, as MLS candidate Djordje Petrovic is away with Serbia, but his backup has plenty of experience in this competition, so while that is a loss, I don’t think it is as big as Gallese for Orlando.
Importantly the Revolution have both Carles Gil and Gustavo Bou available and with them yet to lose at Gillette and taking on a team missing more than half of what you would determine its first choice players, I like the home win here.
Nashville SC v St. Louis City SC
The pick of the matches in the MLS this weekend comes slightly later on Sunday morning when the new boys St Louis City SC head to music city to take on Nashville SC in a clash which pits second in the East against the leaders of the West.
Just their league positions alone will highlight that these are two excellent teams and they are both in good form. If it wasn’t for the insanely good season FC Cincinnati are putting together these two sides would be being spoken about a lot more than they are.
Nashville is unbeaten in nine matches and has won six of their last eight with MVP from last season Hany Mukhtar dominating games in the way Nashville set up for him to do.
There is a lot to like about St Louis City this season though. They score goals but there is a growing vulnerability to them defensively, even allowing for Tim Parker rolling back the years at the heart of their defence. In Eduard Lowen, they have a special playmaker of their own.
St Louis is without a win in four on the road but Seattle, Colorado, Chicago and Dallas is a tough run of away matches. To be fair, it gets no easier here but rather than take Nashville to win when they haven’t kept a clean sheet in six, I think the better bet is to expect these styles to gel and lead us to goals with all the attacking quality that is on the pitch.
Atlético Nacional v Deportivo Pasto
Nacional dug in when it really mattered last week and ground out an away point against main group rivals Alianza Petrolera despite playing the entire second half a man down.
They showed character and were defensively superb to shut out Alianza who could have taken a giant stride to qualify for their first ever league final with the win. And at the end of the game, both Dorlan Pabon and Sebastian Gómez both went incredibly close to securing the smash-and-grab mission, as ten-man Nacional doubled Alianza’s xG.
There remain critics of manager Pablo Autuori’s pragmatic style. Rarely have Nacional bulldozed a team into submission this season. But he deserves huge credit for the way he’s blended many of the promising youth players from the academy into the first team while leaving Nacional on the cusp of qualifying for the league final after also steering them into the knock-out rounds of the Copa Libertadores with two games to play.
In this weekend’s group decider, Nacional have to better Alianza Petrolera, who start with a +1 goal difference and have also scored more goals. Alianza has the tougher tie, but Nacional will know nothing less than victory against Pasto (who can only qualify if they win and the bottom team Águilas surprise Alianza), will do.
Pasto has shown how to defend in this group stage, keeping clean sheets in three out of their five games. In fact, under 2.5 goals at 1.87 is a tempting price to entice a punt on what looks like a dour chess battle that will probably explode into life at the very end.
But Nacional has far more options than Pasto and under Autuori know when to pick their moments to hammer home the killer blow. In front of a sold-out stadium, bet on them to put Pasto to the sword.
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