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MLS Betting Preview and Pick: Sporting KC at Vancouver Whitecaps

MLS KC vs Vancouver logos
The CONCACAF Champions League schedule often interferes with an MLS contender’s ability to field its strongest and healthiest lineups over the early course of the U.S. club season.

It’s really nobody’s fault. The spring schedule of the UEFA Champions League elimination stage works well with the schedule of European football, but in North America, to hold CL fixtures in July and August – when Major League Soccer is in full swing – would pit players against excessive heat in Mexico and other locales closer to the equator.

American clubs don’t have to contend with a Champions League medal round at the tail end of the domestic season. But the fact that a successful CONCACAF run often occurs just as MLS teams are formulating and training for a given year has led lots of U.S. coaches into a conundrum. Atlanta United is just one of many clubs which has felt the sting of cross-purposes in the preseason.

Sporting KC is off to a lousy start in 2019, prompting supporters to ask the same questions over again. Is the club from the Show-Me State suffering from having challenged the greats of Liga MX in March and April? The “Wizards” sure haven’t shown us otherwise, having dropped 4 out of 8 MLS matches en route to 11th place in the Western Conference.

The club has not won a match in any competition since March 30th.

But don’t tell that to Las Vegas handicappers, who are known to be stubborn when offering lines on Major League Soccer clubs.

Vancouver is ahead of Kansas City in the standings. But the Whitecaps are 5-to-1 underdogs at multiple soccer betting sites for an upcoming road match against Sporting KC at Children’s Mercy Park on Saturday night.

Sporting KC vs Vancouver: Assessing a Favorite With a Poor Record

The bookmakers at Sportsbetting.ag, who are giving Kansas City (-277) moneyline chances to win in 90+ minutes for a 3rd time this season, are basing their odds on history and roster comparisons.

Sporting KC outscored Vancouver 10-1 in 2 fixtures last season, with the Whitecaps taking red cards each time.

Last season’s series would have been more competitive on the score sheet were it not for goalkeeping and backline breakdowns on the part of Vancouver. You can see in the highlight reel that KC gave up a glorious chance early in the match and were lucky not to fall behind 0-1.

Favorites’ gamblers will be counting on Kansas City’s resume this Saturday. Sporting KC has won an MLS Cup and 2 U.S. Open Cups in the past 6 years, and advanced to the Champions League semifinals earlier this cycle. Peter Vermes is one of the most accomplished skippers in MLS, ranking 2nd among active coaches with 4 major trophies.

But as sprinkled as the 2019 roster may be with talent, it is also ridden with injury problems.

Forward Erik Hurtado is living up to his name, while midfielder Róger Espinoza and backs Jaylin Lindsey, Rodney Wallace and Matt Besler are all among those on the mend.

Press Forward, Fall Back

Vermes has been criticized for his high-press style. Early signs have indicated that he is showing flexibility with his preferred formation such as using a 3-5-2 in a recent match-up.

But it’s hard for a dog to change its spots. Sporting KC lives and dies with an aggressive game plan, and just as in English football, the press tends to expose weaknesses…in the opponent and in yourself. Gedion Zelalem, a KC midfielder on loan from Arsenal, can tell tales about Southampton matches being cautiously tied at half before all heck broke loose in the 2nd 45 minutes.

A promising attack is percolating in midfield and at forward. 16-year-old Gianluca Busio is a sensation who has scored 3 times in 7 appearances while starring for the Team USA U17 squad. Striker Krisztián Németh leads the club with 6 goals and can boast experience in many major leagues and the Hungarian National Team. Forward Johnny Russell had a tremendous stint with Championship club Derby County before becoming a productive member of the Wizards’ front line.

Goalkeeper Tim Melia has been known for having a tremendous impact as one of the top keepers in MLS. Melia was an MVP in 2017 but could badly use a little help from the back line and has given up 18 goals in 9 starts on the 2019 season.

Look at what happened Sporting KC’s match on April 27th against visiting New England. Németh tallied twice, and talented Chilean veteran Felipe Gutiérrez had a brilliant 2-goal contest from center midfield. But young center back Abdul Rwatubyaye had a rotten day, and his sidekick Andreu Fontàs Prat was full of pratfalls as the Revolution scored 4 times to earn a point.

If Vancouver produces a solid attack that can deal with a press and avoid turnovers in midfield on Saturday, we could be looking at one of the best underdog picks of the spring MLS campaign.

Let’s take a closer look at the visitors.

Vancouver Whitecaps: Close but No Cigar

41-year-old Montreal native Marc Dos Santos is in his maiden season with the Whitecaps. Dos Santos has had previous stints leading the Montreal Impact in the D2 Pro League and the Ottawa Fury, a successful club in the North American Soccer League.

The new skipper’s heritage fits right in, even as his formations are a bit of an adjustment. The club has won several Canadian championships in the current decade and made a courageous run to the Champions League finals just a couple of years ago.

The Whitecaps overhauled a majority of the roster before the 2019 season. Former leading goal scorer Kei Kamara was picked up by Colorado in the expansion draft.

South Korean Hwang In-beom is believed to have a stellar future with the club. The 22-year-old standout played a pivotal role in South Korea’s championship at the 2018 Asian Games. But he only has 1 goal and 1 assist in 11 appearances with Vancouver.

That puts more pressure on Peruvian striker Yordy Reyna, one of the few mainstays on the roster.

Things have brightened on the attacking end, however, with the recent return of Colombian forward Fredy Montero. Montero’s first stint with the Whitecaps came on-loan from Chinese club Tianjin TEDA F.C and he made the most of the spell in the USA with 14 goals in 36 appearances. Before returning to Vancouver for the 2019 season, Montero played for the powerful Portuguese club Sporting CP.

The 31-year-old international leads the Whitecaps with 3 goals in 2019.

In the short term, there is frustration, as the squad has squandered terrific chances to go ahead in deadlocked matches, leading to disappointing draws.

In Vancouver’s recent 1-1 draw with Philadelphia at BC Place, the hosts controlled the ball more often, out-passed their opponents and counted twice as many shots on-target. But the team could only manage a single goal in the 41st minute and did not answer when Kacper Przybyłko (bless you!) of the Union scored to draw the match level in the 2nd half.

About a week later in Colorado it was a different story. The Rapids beat the L.A. Galaxy 2-0 in a February friendly and have achieved draws against Sporting KC and Portland since then. But an early Montero goal set the visiting Whitecaps alight, and substitute midfielder Andy Rose scored a late winner with a nifty strike from close range.

But considering the sloppy play in the box and the 2 penalties taken by Vancouver, a closer look at the backline is needed before we tout them to upset Sporting KC this weekend.

The bookends are right there. Canadian goalie Maxime Crépeau has started 11 games on the season and has conceded a stubborn total of 14 goals. The 25-year-old keeper just had a tremendous season with the Ottawa Fury of the USL in 2018.  Crépeau went 6 games without giving up a goal to earn USL Player of the Month in May 2018. He was later named the league’s GK of the year.

Defender Doneil Henry spent 3 seasons playing for West Ham United and Blackburn. The veteran has scored his first 2 goals with the Whitecaps in 2019.

Other Vancouver defenders, such as Jakob Nerwinski, come with resumes that are slightly less celebrated.

It’s clear that the Whitecaps have a shot to upset an ailing Kansas City side, but I can’t see Crépeau pitching a shut-out against a road opponent that plays as aggressively as the Wizards do.

The best 2 markets are Whitecaps-to-cover and the high side of the O/U. I’ll check around our network of sportsbooks and find the best lines and payoff odds.

Saturday Night MLS: Finding the Best Betting Markets

Sportsbetting.ag’s (3) total with a (-114) payoff line seems like a high-% Over wager in a match-up of 2 dodgy backlines. Are those the best payoff odds for the Over (3) found online as of Thursday?

Bovada Sportsbook gives a (3) total as well, but the clients there like the Over as much as I do, having driven the market to a 20% house take.

Bovada’s (+550) line on Vancouver to win, however, is a great pick for those looking to speculate an upset and win over $100 on a $20 bet.

MyBookie is even more keen on the Over (3), offering only a (-125) payoff. Sportsbetting.ag is clearly the best choice for the likely-to-win O/U pick at (-114) payoff.

Now for the spreads. MyBookie is giving Vancouver (+1 ¼) at (-116). The Costa Rican betting site is not into booking Asian Handicaps, and I’ve asked representatives of the brand to explain what “1/4” of a goal means in their spreads exactly. It doesn’t mean a whole lot – if Vancouver loses by 1 goal the ATS wager on the Whitecaps pays off. I think the “1/4” mostly serves as a warning that the line is moving close to (1) even (not even odds, but the whole number).

Bovada gives Vancouver a (+1) with a (+120) payoff, but that wager only pays off if the visitors win or draw the match. Sportsbetting.ag offers an underdog’s Asian Handicap of (1, 1 ½) at (-108).

The 2 best lines are at Sportsbetting.ag and MyBookie.

Prediction and Best Bets for Saturday’s Fixture

I’m expecting a high-scoring match with a close result. Vancouver may not be ready to win a title or even finish with a winning record in 2019. But whatever magic powder that pundits are imagining exists in Vermes’ playbook, it doesn’t exist.

Sporting KC may charge in the 2nd half of the season. The Wizards are not playing well at the moment, and it may be at least another months before the club starts putting it together.

Plus, these are the 2 least-effective backlines I’ve seen get touted with a simple (3) Over/Under total in quite a while.

ODDS-114

MY PICK:
Pick Vancouver to cover (+1 ¼) or the Over (3) for Kansas City on Saturday.