The regular season is done and we are down to just 14 teams in the fight for the MLS Cup, which gets underway on November 20, and there have already been plenty of surprises.
|To Win MLS Cup|
|New England Revolution||+290||+280||+325|
|New York Red Bulls||+4200||+4000||+4000|
|Real Salt Lake||+5200||+5000||+5000|
Who do Bettors Favor?
This year’s soccer betting markets on the MLS Cup winner look relatively open and while there is a clear favorite in New England Revolution, there has also been support for the two best teams in the West, Colorado (who will have a bye in the first round) and Seattle.
Philadelphia Union appear to be difficult for the bookies to price up as their odds vary considerably across the sportsbooks, while NY Red Bulls and Real Salt Lake are the least favored teams from the East and West respectively.
Who Missed Out?
In soccer, it seems that money talks, but that hasn’t been the case in the MLS this time round. In fact, of the five biggest spending clubs – LAFC, LA Galaxy, Atlanta, Toronto, and Inter Miami, only Atlanta made it through to the playoffs, and they aren’t rated among the favorites.
In the West, there was a remarkable symmetry as the teams that missed out included all three teams from California (LAFC, Galaxy, San Jose) and the three Texas representatives (Dallas, Houston, Austin).
The Eastern Conference, meanwhile, saw DC United, Columbus, and Montreal go close but just miss out, along with Toronto, Inter Miami, Cincinnati, and Chicago.
Best Bets in the East
Top of the betting markets in the East are New England Revolution, who ran away with the Supporters Shield, finishing 19 points ahead of their nearest challenger in the East and 12 points better than the best of the West. Picking up their first-ever Shield will be seen by many Revs fans as a significant omen as they bid to win the Cup for the first time, having played in five previous finals.
But bettors looking at the recent history of the competition will have noted the recent record of Shield winners. None of the last three have gone on to lift the Cup. The fact that all teams in the competition played only two cross-conference games this season also adds an element of unpredictability.
The Revs had mixed results against West teams, losing in Dallas and beating Colorado, but there is enough uncertainty over how these playoffs will shape up to avoid wagering on them at short odds.
Instead, Nashville could be a better bet. They finished with the best defensive record in the East, and that defensive resilience could prove invaluable in the tight and scrappy play-offs. They also have a good record against the Revs, earning a win and a draw from their two meetings this season so they will have nothing to fear if they meet in the Conference Final.
Best of the West
Colorado Rapids finished on top in the West, though it was a close battle between the Rapids, Seattle, Kansas, and Portland and in the end, the fact that all three of their main rivals lost their way towards the end of the regular season enabled the Rapids to hang on for the top spot.
Portland are likely to meet Colorado in the Conference semi-finals but they didn’t win either of their two meetings this season. In the other likely semi-final, Kansas have a good record this season against Seattle, but this is the playoffs and when it comes to this stage in the season, there are few teams better equipped to cope with the pressure than the Sounders.
Seattle will have to be at their best to get past Kansas, but they are unbeaten in three against Colorado this season, so I’m banking on them making yet another MLS Cup Final.
Who will win the MLS Cup?
A Nashville against Seattle Cup Final would be a fascinating clash of MLS veterans against newcomers. Nashville’s second season has built on the success of their inaugural campaign when they reached the Conference Semi-Finals in an interrupted season, and they look a more solid outfit this time round as Gary Smith has built a dependable outfit with its foundation in defense.
But the Sounders can match Nashville for defensive stubbornness, having conceded the same number of goals as their Eastern Conference counterparts. That suggests a Nashville versus Seattle Final could be a cagey contest. Crucially, however, Seattle have a wealth of experience that Nashville cannot match. The Sounders have reached four of the last five finals and unlike the Revs, they’ve won two of them. That experience of the biggest stage is invaluable and should help Seattle come out on top.