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MLS Stats Zone: Battle of Los Angeles headlines compelling weekend

This weekend in MLS, Los Angeles FC meets the Los Angeles Galaxy while each conference features a battle between top-four teams.

Plus, Lionel Messi could return from his hamstring injury when Inter Miami hosts the Colorado Rapids in the teams' first-ever MLS meeting, Toronto FC visits the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first all-Canadian matchup of 2024, and new Charlotte FC designated player Liel Abada could make his first start against the New England Revolution.

Let's get into the major stats that might have some bearing on this weekend's action.

Paintsil and Puig could run LAFC defense ragged

While Dejan Joveljic is tied for second in MLS in goals with five and Marky Delgado is tied for second in assists with three, Riqui Puig and new signing Joseph Paintsil have grabbed the most headlines for the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Paintsil has two goals and two assists in his first six MLS games. The winger is also tied for third in expected assists with 1.9, eighth in passes into the penalty area with 14, joint-eighth in shot-creating actions with 27, joint-seventh in goal-creating actions with four, joint-fifth in progressive carries with 27, joint-sixth in carries into the penalty area with 10, and joint-second in fouls drawn with 17.

Simply put, he loves to drive forward with the ball, and he is hard to defend. Paintsil is +260 to score anytime and +300 to beat 1.5 shots on target this weekend.

Meanwhile, midfield playmaker Puig is joint-eighth in MLS in shots on target with eight, joint-sixth in key passes with 13, first in passes into the final third with 54, sixth in passes into the penalty area with 16, first in progressive passes with 65, joint-fifth in successful through balls with four, second in shot-creating actions with 43, first in total touches of the ball with 603, and joint-fifth in fouls drawn with 15.

Puig's teammates get him the ball as much as possible and depend on him to make the incisive pass that puts a defense on its back foot. He is +375 to score anytime and +275 to beat 1.5 shots on target against LAFC in 'El Trafico.'

Cincinnati, Red Bulls meet atop Eastern Conference

FC Cincinnati sits in first place in the Eastern Conference with 12 points from six matches. The New York Red Bulls are in fourth with 11 points from six matches.

The teams meet in Ohio on Saturday.

The Red Bulls are tied for third in the East with nine goals while allowing the joint-fourth-lowest number of goals with six.

Cincinnati are the joint-third-lowest goalscorers in the East, but they have the best defense in MLS with just three goals allowed. It should be noted that their 6.1 expected goals against ranks in the middle of the pack leaguewide, so perhaps they have been fortunate to see poor finishing from opponents as well as strong goalkeeping.

Cincinnati has kept clean sheets in half its matches and goalkeeper Roman Celentano has been among the best shot-stoppers in MLS with 2.8 goals saved above average.

NYRB went off for a 4-0 victory against a Lionel Messi-less Inter Miami, and despite FC Cincinnati's mediocre xG against numbers, they're still a difficult team to break down with Miles Robinson and Matt Miazga at center back.

As a result, FC Cincinnati are +115 ML favorites.

Liel Abada could make first start for Charlotte FC

Charlotte FC made a statement by signing 22-year-old winger Liel Abada from Celtic FC in Scotland. Abada scored 21 goals and provided 12 assists in two-and-a-half seasons in Glasgow, making 42 starts in 79 total appearances.

Abada made his MLS debut with 30 minutes remaining in Charlotte FC's last match, a 1-1 draw against FC Cincinnati. He took two shots, neither of which found the target, from 10 touches and completed four of six passes.

Having finished as the seventh-top goalscorer in Scotland with 10 goals in 2021/22 and finishing eighth in assists with six the same season, Abada comes with a reputation as a player who can create for himself and others. That's why his new club paid $8 million for him.

Charlotte is just above the playoff line in ninth place in the East with eight points from six matches, and they might rely on Abada against a New England Revolution team that's starving for points with just one from five games.

Abada is +300 to score anytime this weekend.

Minnesota, Salt Lake in top-four West clash

Minnesota United and Real Salt Lake are level on points with 10 so far, and the teams meet on Saturday in Saint Paul.

The home side has a game in hand on its opponents, so the Loons will want to take full advantage in this head-to-head meeting.

Minnesota has a -3.8 expected goal differential, which indicates they have been lucky on both sides of the ball. They have scored eight goals while creating 6.5 xG, and they have conceded six goals while allowing 10.3 xG against.

RSL, on the other hand, has the second-best xG differential in the Western Conference at +3.3.

It's worth noting that each team has seen a similar level of goalkeeping: Minnesota's Dayne St. Clair has saved 1.3 goals above average while Salt Lake's Zac MacMath has saved 1.4 goals above average.

Minnesota's defense has seen lots of fluctuation in terms of personnel early this year, and manager Cameron Knowles needs to get it right if he wants to leapfrog his team's Western Conference rivals.

Odds mentioned in this article were correct at the time of writing and are subject to change.

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