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MLS Stats Zone: Western Conference leaders face off

The 2024 MLS season's eighth weekend of action is headlined by the Vancouver Whitecaps and Los Angeles Galaxy - first and second in the Western Conference - meeting on Saturday night.

Other key matches include Real Salt Lake hosting the reigning MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew and the Philadelphia Union visiting Atlanta United in an clash of Eastern Conference contenders.

Here, we'll take a look at the stats that could make a difference in the weekend's most important matches.

Paintsil and Picault star for Galaxy, Whitecaps

The Los Angeles Galaxy signed 26-year-old Ghanaian winger Joseph Paintsil for $8 million from Belgian club Genk in the offseason. So far, he has delivered on his price tag to the tune of two goals and two assists in seven matches, plus game-changing pace and an enthusiasm for carrying the ball.

The Vancouver Whitecaps signed 33-year-old Haitian journeyman forward Fabrice "Fafa" Picault on a free transfer from Nashville SC. He has surpassed all expectations with a team-high three goals and a joint-team-high two assists, having started just three of his team's seven matches.

Part of the beauty of MLS is how two players with starkly different career paths - one having been regarded as a star in Belgium, the other having played for five MLS teams in as many years - can play similar roles and yield similar production for their respective teams.

While both players primarily effect the game from the wing, their teams play in vastly different styles. The Galaxy like to hold possession as they have the seventh-highest average possession at 55 percent, while the Whitecaps have the seventh-lowest average possession at 45.2 percent.

The difference in styles has worked well for each team, as they both have scored 14 goals and sit first and second in the West.

In this specific matchup, Picault and his counter-attacking teammates which include Ryan Gauld and Brian White might gain an edge over the Galaxy's center back partnership of 35-year-old Maya Yoshida and 37-year-old Martin Caceres.

That said, Paintsil could find an advantage against Vancouver's constantly changing wing-backs. The 'Caps haven't started the same pair of wing-backs in consecutive games this season, indicating that manager Vanni Sartini doesn't have much faith in his options there. If that's the case, count on Paintsil to run riot.

Picault and Paintsil are each +240 to score this weekend, and both players are +275 to post Over 1.5 shots on target.

Chicho and Real Salt Lake face Cucho and the Columbus Crew

Cristian "Chicho" Arango, the scoring leader in MLS with six goals, and his Real Salt Lake teammates will host the reigning MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew and the team's 2023 postseason hero Juan "Cucho" Hernandez on Saturday.

RSL is beating expectations, sitting third in the Western Conference after seven games. Columbus is fourth in the East which is about on par with preseason projections.

Both team's expected goals totals are aligned with their goals scored tallies, indicating that neither team has seen an abundance of luck when it comes to goalscoring. The Crew have 10 goals on 9.6 xG and RSL has 11 goals on 9.9 xG.

All three of Cucho's goals this season have been from open play, while one of Chicho's six was a penalty kick. Neither player ranks in the top 10 in MLS in non-penalty expected goals per 90 minutes, but Chicho Arango is third in MLS in goals above expected as he has six goals on 3.8 xG.

Both strikers do not require much space to get a good shot off. Columbus averages one goal conceded per game while Real Salt Lake concedes 1.14 goals on average, so these are solid defenses that have each helped beat good teams already this season.

Juan 'Cucho' Hernandez is +130 to score anytime while Cristian 'Chicho' Arango is +175 to find the net at home this weekend.

Philadelphia Union, Atlanta United bring attacking firepower to Sunday clash

The Philadelphia Union visit Atlanta United for a nationally-televised matchup on Sunday afternoon. The Goals Over/Under is set at 2.5 and the Both Teams To Score odds are -188 thanks to Thiago Almada, Jamal Thiare, Daniel Gazdag, Julian Carranza and Mikael Uhre being slated to share the field.

Thiare has three goals for Atlanta and while teammate Almada only has one goal, he's coming off a season in which he competed for the MVP award with 11 goals and 16 assists. The Five Stripes will be missing leading goalscorer Giorgios Giakoumakis due to a knee injury.

Gazdag and Carranza each have four goals for Philly and teammate Uhre has two goals and ranks sixth - level with Lionel Messi - in non-penalty expected goals per 90 minutes.

The Union have the more consistent offense, having posted between 1.9 and 2.4 expected goals in all but one of this season's matches. Atlanta has three games with less than 1.0 xG, and they have matches in which they've posted 3.2 and 2.7 xG this season.

The odds and stats indicate this will be a high-scoring affair, and as a result, anytime goalscorer odds include Almada, Gazdag and Carranza at +220, Thiare at +240, and Uhre at +250.

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

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