The MLS playoffs get underway this week and 14 hopeful teams will be aiming to reach the final and lift the MLS Cup. First up are Philadelphia and New York Red Bulls in the East and Sporting Kansas and Vancouver in the West.
|Philadelphia v Red Bulls|
Who do Bettors Favor?
MLS fans checking out the soccer betting markets and sites will find that bookies are strongly favoring home wins in both of the first two games, as the second-place finisher in the East, Philadelphia takes on the seventh-placed Red Bulls, while in the West it is third against sixth.
Philadelphia are generally regarded as a +115 chance against the Red Bulls, while the New York side are rated at around +270 and the draw is pegged at +220.
For the two Western Conference rivals, bookmakers have made Kansas much bigger favorites, at -145 while they give Vancouver little chance at +430 and the draw is quoted at +290.
Philadelphia v NY Red Bulls, 2021-11-20
At the end of the summer, it seemed as though it was all over for the Red Bulls. They’d won just three games in June, July, and August, and their hopes of making the playoffs appeared to be forlorn.
The fall, however, saw them rediscover their form at exactly the right time. They lost only twice from the start of September and that run was enough to earn them a top-seven spot by just a single point from DC United. But now they need to improve again to go deep in the postseason.
That steep curve begins with a trip to Philadelphia, a team that they know well. The Red Bulls have played the Union three times this season so far, securing two 1-1 draws at home and losing 1-0 in Philadelphia. Given their respective finishing positions, that isn’t a bad record, but the fact remains that they haven’t proven they can win against these opponents in the recent past.
They also lost both games against the Union last season and although they did record a victory in this fixture in September 2019, they went on to be knocked out in the First Round by the same opponents.
It would boost the Red Bulls’ chances if Philadelphia went into these playoffs in poor form, but that is not the case. The Union finished the season strong, losing one of their last 11, and that defeat was a narrow 3-2 loss in Minnesota. At home, they are on a run of five straight wins.
Key to their success this season have been the tactical adjustments made by head coach Jim Curtin, who has hit on a highly effective diamond formation that has enabled him to get the best out of top scorer Kacper Przybylko, who could be the decisive match-winner in the postseason.
In terms of style of play, both teams will go with their usual frenetic pressing approach, which should make for an exhilarating contest. Ultimately, however, Philadelphia have the stronger team, the deeper squad, and the more cohesive gameplan, so I will be siding with the Union here.
Sporting Kansas v Vancouver, 2021-11-20
A late-season slump saw Sporting Kansas finish third in the Western Conference, but their playoff spot was not in doubt and for the tenth time in eleven seasons, Kansas are in the postseason.
Their attempt to win a third title begins with a home tie against Vancouver, for which they are big favorites against a team that is making its first appearance in the playoffs since 2017.
Despite their disappointing end to the regular season, it is hard to argue with the bookmakers, at least not on paper. Kansas finished nine points ahead of the Whitecaps in the Western Conference and their goal difference was 18 goals better. And while they finished with the third-best defensive record in the West, their offense was impressive. They scored 58 goals during the regular season, second only to New England Revolution in the MLS this year.
Yet Vancouver are the kind of team that should not be written off. After a poor start to the campaign, they improved dramatically under interim coach Vanni Sartini, losing only two of their last 22 regular-season games. Their run to the playoffs was built primarily on a stout defensive organization and an ability to exploit set-pieces. Their three-man central defense, often protected by two holding midfielders, made them stubborn and awkward to play against.
Kansas wide men Daniel Salloi and Johnny Russell are a constant threat, and that will likely force Vancouver to drop deep, while their somewhat predictable attacking moves probably won’t be enough to worry the home side.
But while they don’t score many, Vancouver can defend stoutly and will be well organized here. It is also worth noting that they beat Kansas 2-1 as recently as October 17 which should serve as a boost to their confidence. At these odds, it’s worth betting on the Whitecaps to take this one to extra time.
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