MLS Picks for Saturday, March 18

By Taylor Smith in MLS on March 18, 2017

The Week 3 MLS slate features a whopping 10 games on Saturday followed by just one match on Sunday evening. Saturday’s schedule is highlighted by a game between a pair of undefeateds. The Houston Dynamo will head to Portland to take on fellow unbeaten Portland Timbers at Providence Park.

We’ll also have a matchup between a pair of Eastern Conference powers when the Montreal Impact face NYCFC at Yankee Stadium.

How will the games shake out?

New York City FC (-0.5)
VS
Montreal Impact (+0.5)
Total: 3

The Impact were seconds away from notching their first win of the season on Saturday night before allowing an equalizer in stoppage time to Seattle’s Will Bruin. Nevertheless, the Impact showed in that game why they are so dangerous in the counterattack led by Ignacio Piatti.

After losing in the first game of the year at Orlando, NYCFC came back to the Big Apple for their home opener last week and promptly crushed DC United, 4-0. NYCFC’s potent attack was on full display, led by defending league MVP David Villa and exciting newcomer Maxi Moralez.

Yankee Stadium is a tough place for any opponent to play, but Montreal earned an impressive 1-1 draw in this fixture last season. Of course, once the scene shifted to Montreal NYCFC bagged a 3-1 win over the Impact.

While the Impact figure to be in the mix once the playoffs roll around, it’s a tall order for any team to march into NYC’s home park and come out with a win. A draw is possible in this spot, but we like the home team to collect all three points here.

Pick

NYCFC
3
Montreal
1
Atlanta United (-0.5)
VS
Chicago Fire (+0.5)
Total: 3

This should be a fun one. The Fire are looking like one of the most improved teams in MLS, thanks in large part to midfield upgrades Dax McCarty and Juninho. The two were instrumental in helping the Fire to a solid 2-0 victory in the home opener last week, and they have really fortified what was an area of weakness for Chicago last season.

Atlanta, meanwhile, could easily have two wins in their first two games as an MLS franchise. They blew a 1-0 lead late in their opener against New York Red Bulls before thrashing fellow expansion club Minnesota United in a snowy affair last Sunday.

It’s early, but Atlanta just seems legitimately good already. They lead MLS with seven goals to this point, with five of those coming from the potent combination of Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron. They play an aggressive style both offensively and defensively. ATL is tied for the league lead in shots on goal this season with 12, and their 31 fouls committed has them tied for third-most.

This is shaping up to be one of the most hotly-contested games of the weekend between a pair of teams that should challenge for a spot in the MLS Cup playoffs. In front of what figures to be another massive home crowd, though, we’ll give the slight edge to the expansion club.

Pick

Atlanta
2
Chicago
1
Vancouver Whitecaps (Pick -130)
VS
Toronto FC (Pick +110)
Total: 2.5

Toronto’s long road continues with a third consecutive away match to open the season. This time, they’ll be facing their cross-country rival Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place.

The defending Eastern Conference champs will come into this one shorthanded, however. Star man Sebastian Giovinco was forced to leave last week’s game against Philadelphia with a contusion in his right leg. He was ruled out for the game in Vancouver following practice on Tuesday, and was excused from the team in order to visit his own doctor in Italy.

Tosaint Ricketts replaced Giovinco against the Union and played a solid 46 minutes. Jordan Hamilton may also be an option to replace the high-scoring Italian in the starting 11 for the Reds in this one.

Vancouver, meanwhile, is in the midst of a rough week. They were beaten after getting out to an early 2-0 lead last week in San Jose, and then suffered a 2-0 defeat against Tigres UANL in the CONCACAF Champions League on Tuesday evening.

These two teams have only generated a total of 30 shots and four goals between them through their first two games apiece. Vancouver and Toronto met each other just once in MLS play last season, and the Whitecaps came out on the positive end of a 4-3 thriller on the road.

TFC did beat the Whitecaps 2-2 on aggregate with an away goal advantage in the 2016 Canadian Championship, however.

Generating chances has been a tough task for Toronto to this point, and it’s tough to imagine that’ll get much better this week without Giovinco in the fold. Vancouver should be able to squeeze this one out at home.

Pick

Vancouver
1
Toronto
0
DC United (-0.5)
VS
Columbus Crew (+0.5)
Total: 3

This one will feature two teams coming off of brutal results last week. DC United were humiliated 4-0 at NYCFC while, Columbus suffered a 3-1 setback at Houston.

While the result was poor, the process wasn’t awful for Columbus. They created a fair number of chances against the Dynamo, but ultimately just came up short of providing that final touch to get the ball over the line. Their 14 shots were twice as many as Houston mustered, but preventable mistakes ultimately doomed the Crew.

DC United have gone two matches without a goal, and they’ll be desperately looking to end that dry spell against Columbus and their young goal keeper, Zack Steffen. DC have really missed the attacking presence of Luciano Acosta, who has yet to see the pitch in either of the first two games after suffering an ankle injury during the preseason.

Acosta status for this one is still up in the air, but if he’s fit to play you can bet DC will look more dangerous in attack.

Columbus could make a few tactical changes for this one, but there’s no telling how that will come off without a ton of practice time. United have to find the score sheet at some point, and they should be able to do so this week. The Crew go on the road and earn a point here.

Pick

DC United
1
Columbus
1
Orlando City (-0.5)
VS
Philadelphia Union (+0.5)
Total: 3

Orlando City’s game last week in New England was postponed thanks to bad weather, so they caught a break of sorts. Star man Kaká is slated to miss the next several weeks with a hamstring issue, so the club essentially got a week off as he continues to rehab.

Philly, meanwhile, was held to a 2-2 draw at home by Toronto FC. Striker Jay Simpson scored his first goal for his new club, but was forced to leave the game shortly thereafter with a rib injury. He isn’t a sure thing to be back out there this week, which could leave the Union a bit shorthanded in attack.

Without Kaká, much of the offensive load for Orlando City will fall onto the shoulders of strike Cyle Larin. Larin found the back of the net in the season-opening win over NYCFC, but he’ll need plenty of help if the Lions are to weather the storm without their star Brazilian.

These two clubs have met at Orlando twice since the Lions entered the league in 2015, with both games ending in draws. A third straight draw in this fixture sounds about right, especially with both teams potentially shorthanded.

Pick

Orlando City
1
Philadelphia
1
FC Dallas (-0.5)
VS
New England Revolution (+0.5)
Total: 2.5

While the Revs haven’t played since falling at the hands of Colorado two weeks ago, FC Dallas comes into this game in fine form. FCD won at LA in the season opener and then held Sporting KC to a scoreless draw last week despite using several younger players in the starting 11.

The squad was back at full-strength for a CONCACAF Champions League tilt with Pachuca of Liga MX. After falling down 1-0 in the third minute, Dallas rallied for a pair to come up with a 2-1 victory.

This was the best regular season club in MLS last season, and a repeat performance wouldn’t be shocking. Young American midfielder Kellyn Acosta has been particularly impressive, as his wonderstrike on a set piece against Pachuca evened the score. That brought Acosta’s total number of goals on the season to four, three of which have come in the CCL.

FCD will also be playing their first MLS home game of the season, so they’ll want to kick things off with a victory.

Pick

FC Dallas
3
New England
1
Sporting Kansas City (-0.5)
VS
San Jose Earthquakes (+0.5)
Total: 2.5

After finishing last season in the cellar of the Western Conference, the San Jose Earthquakes have flipped the script since the calendar flipped to 2017. Following an impressive 1-0 win over Eastern Conference power Montreal in the season opener, they came back and earned a 3-2 come-from-behind win over Vancouver last Saturday night.

The Quakes fell behind 2-0 after 17 minutes, only to turn on the jets from that point forward. A red card to the Whitecaps’ goalkeeper certainly helped, but this team looks like it has some real fight this season, unlike last year.

Sporting KC, meanwhile, are still looking for their first goal of the season. They have played a pair of goalless draws against DC United and FC Dallas to this point. If you aren’t going to score any goals, though, not giving up any goals at the other end is certainly helpful.

KC have certainly had their chances to find the score sheet, but that final touch has been elusive thus far. They’ve enjoyed a fair spell of possession, and their high-pressing style should eventually lead to a plethora of scoring chances.

Kansas City haven’t allowed a goal in each of their last four games (dating back to last season), but that streak will be tested against a confident San Jose side. Anibal Godoy has scored in each of the Quakes’ first two games, while veteran striker Chris Wondolowski has already bagged a goal with a pair of assists.

If they can get an early strike this week, I like Kansas City’s chances of seeing it out.

Pick

Sporting KC
2
San Jose
0
Colorado Rapids (-0.5)
VS
Minnesota United (+0.5)
Total: 2.5

Things could be going better for expansion side Minnesota United. They have been outscored 11-2 through their first two MLS matches, including a 6-1 thrashing in their home opener last weekend. On the bright side, at least they have been able to score in each game. That’s good, right?

The Rapids knocked off New England to open the season before suffering a tight 1-0 setback at New York last Saturday. On the bright side, American hero Tim Howard returned to action for the first time in months and looked like his old self. The 38-year-old made a number of impressive, sprawling saves, and was rewarded for his efforts with a call-up to the USMNT.

There is an awful lot working against MNUFC in this spot. Their defense has looked incredibly porous thus far, and they may have a tough time finding the back of the net in this one. Colorado allowed just 32 goals all of last season, which was the fewest in MLS. Considering five of those 32 goals allowed came in one game, that’s quite the impressive defensive track record.

Soccer is inherently unpredictable, but a blowout here isn’t really likely, either. The Rapids were fairly inept themselves when it came to scoring goals last year, netting just 39. They’ve scored once through two games this season, as well.

The home side should be able to earn a relatively easy home win against an expansion club looking for answers.

Pick

Colorado
2
Minnesota
0
Real Salt Lake (-0.5)
VS
LA Galaxy (+0.5)
Total: 2.5

It’s only been two games, but the season is off to something of a nightmarish start for new Galaxy head coach Curt Onalfo. The deck was always going to be stacked against him as the replacement to longtime coach Bruce Arena, but few could’ve imagined this dismal a start.

LA were beaten 2-1 on their home ground by FC Dallas in the opener, and subsequently lost 1-0 the next week to Portland. While those are a pair of quality opponents, LA has had to deal with some bad luck. Midfielder Jermaine Jones was suspended for the Portland game after a rough tackle against Dallas, while captain centerback Jelle Van Damme picked up a couple of dubious yellow cards and was sent off against the Timbers.

MLS upheld Van Damme’s one-game suspension, which means LA will be without their star defender this week as they head to Salt Lake City.

RSL, meanwhile, were beaten rather easily at Chicago last week, 2-0. They are another team that has yet to score a goal through two games. One reason for the offensive struggles has been the fact that winger Joao Plata has missed the first two games with a hip problem. He’s expected to be back in action this week, though, which should provide a boost to Real Salt Lake’s chances of scoring goals.

Real Salt Lake will be out for revenge in this one, as the Galaxy ended their 2016 campaign with a 3-1 result in last fall’s MLS Cup Playoffs. Dropping another match could prove disastrous for Onalfo.

Pick

Real Salt Lake
2
LA Galaxy
2
Portland Timbers (n/a)
VS
Houston Dynamo (n/a)
Total: N/A

Here we have a matchup with a pair of teams coming off back-to-back wins to open the 2017 campaign. Houston impressively beat Seattle 2-1 and followed that up with an easy 3-1 win against Columbus.

Portland crushed Minnesota United 5-1 in the opener and beat the Galaxy 1-0 last Sunday evening. The Timbers, of course, hold one of the best home-field advantages in all of MLS. The 2015 MLS Cup champs went 12-3-2 at Providence Park last season, which ranked second in the league behind only New York for most home wins.

The fact that they struggled so much away from home is the reason they missed out on the playoffs. Portland failed to win a single game on the road last season, but exorcised that demon last week with the aforementioned victory in Los Angeles.

This will be Houston’s first road game of the season, and it’ll be quite a test. Newcomer Romell Quioto has scored in each of the first two games for his club, while veteran forward Erick Torres also has two tallies in the two games to this point.

Portland will have midfielder Diego Chara for this one. He faced a potential suspension after a controversial dive last week against the Galaxy, but the league opted to fine him rather than suspend him.

This one could be a barn-burner, as the clubs have combined to score 11 goals over the first two weeks. The Dynamo will give it a run, but few teams go into Portland and come out with all three points.

Pick

Portland
3
Houston
2
Taylor Smith

Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, but he’s willing to take one for the team on that front every now and then.

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