Colorado Rapids go in search of not only their first win of the campaign but their first goal too when they host expansion side Austin FC at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Saturday night (9pm ET).
Will either franchise claim their first three points of the 2021 MLS season? Read on for our MLS game preview with predictions and concluding betting picks.
Austin now a soccer city
Little over two years ago, Austin was a city without a professional club. The introduction of Austin Bold, who joined the USL Championship in 2019, changed that, though one club wasn’t enough to quench the local thirst for soccer. As of 2021, the city has not one, but two soccer franchises operating in the professional game. Austin FC, who unlike Austin Bold, will play in MLS, played their first ever competitive fixture last weekend, losing by two goals to nil away against LAFC. Playing at Banc of California Stadium was always going to be an uphill task, but the new boys acquitted themselves well, despite the result.
Expansion sides often struggle in their first season, but Austin FC, who have brought in no shortage of players with MLS experience, may just enjoy a steady first season, at least that’s what their opening-day performance suggested.
More progress for the Rapids?
After the 2019 campaign, which yielded a rather disappointing ninth place finish in the Western Conference, Colorado didn’t look to be in a great place. The season had started poorly, so much so that Englishman Anthony Hudson dismissed as head coach, while the playoffs were never quite in reach. That said, Conor Casey steadied the ship as interim boss, while progress was certainly made under Robin Fraser, which continued last season. In 2020, Colorado made the playoffs for the first time since 2016, so it’s fair to say that they’ve made a step in the right direction under the guidance of Fraser. He has the highest win percentage of any of the last seven head coaches at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
The goal will be to continue progressing this term, and they made a solid start by keeping a clean sheet en route to halving the spoils away against Dallas on the opening weekend. In that match, the Rapids didn’t look too enterprising in the final third. They made themselves tough to beat though, giving away few clear-cut chances as they dug in and fought hard for a point.
One thing that has been evident under Fraser is defensive improvement. In the Western Conference last season, only Seattle, who finished second, conceded fewer expected goals than the Rapids. If Saturday’s hosts can repeat such efforts, then another post-season appearance seems likely.
Positives in defeat
Austin did come up short in Los Angeles last week, but there were definite positives for coach Wolff. Keeping the score at 0-0 in the first half was a big plus, as was the fact that the visitors created a few openings of their own. A 55% share of possession was also encouraging. Overall, based on volume of chances created, their defeat was merited, but they were far from hammered by one of the best teams in all of MLS, so there’s no reason why Austin cannot move forward feeling confident about competing at this level.
With players such as Alexander Ring, Ben Sweat, Diego Fagundez, Matt Besler and Kekuta Manneh, there’s a core group of experience when it comes to the game in the US, while Austin have also managed to add some exciting talent from further afield. They have brought in the likes of Tomas Pochettino from Talleres in Argentina, as well as 19-year-old Rodney Redes from Guarani in Paraguay.
Where’s the bet?
Given that we’re talking about a completely new expansion side that is still very much finding its feet and will be for a while, it is not surprising that Colorado come into this match as favourites. A price of -125 on the home win is even less surprising given Colorado’s efforts at home last term. In their own backyard, the Rapids only lost once, while they finished the campaign with a pleasing average expected goal difference of +0.64. Against a new team, the hosts are rightly expected to get the job done, and it is hard to put those punters that want to get involved off.
Last term saw Colorado really produce some fine stuff on home soil. They scored a pleasing 15 goals in just seven home matches, while they performed well in terms of xG too, posting a respectable 11.2 expected goals for in seven home games, conceding just 6.7. As touched on in this preview above, their average expected goal difference (at home) of +0.64 is hard to ignore. Last week they weren’t particularly exciting offensively, but that could easily change back on home soil, while crucially, they started the campaign in a solid way defensively, which gives them something to build on.
In time, Austin may just have the tools to perform admirably in their first season, but as we saw last time out, they are not there yet. As they eventually did against LAFC, the visitors are backed to come up short against more experienced opposition. So the sole betting pick for this preview’s predictions is:
- Colorado to win on the moneyline @ best odds of -125 with BetOnline.