The weekend was packed with dramatic MLS action and on Tuesday, it is the turn of Nashville and Orlando in the East while in the West, Seattle take on Real Salt Lake, with a place in the Conference semi-finals at stake.
|Nashville v Orlando|
Who do Bettors Favor?
MLS fans checking out the best online sportsbooks will find that bookies and bettors alike are favoring the home teams in this final batch of first-round playoff games.
In the East, Nashville are strong favorites to get the better of Orlando, with the home side priced at around -105 and the away team at +325, while in the West, playoff regulars Seattle are rated as a -140 chance against Real Salt Lake who can be backed at +375.
Nashville v Orlando City, 2021-11-23
Nothing could separate these teams in the regular season as they played out three draws, and both ended the season picking up an identical 13 points from their last ten games. That latter stat suggests not only that these two are well-matched but that they are going into the playoffs in no kind of form.
There are some important differences between these teams, however, which could point to the likely outcome of this playoff game. Nashville have one of the meanest defenses in MLS. They have the joint best defense in the league, and a potential Defensive Player of the Year contender in Walker Zimmerman, as well as a goalkeeper, Joe Willis, who recorded 13 clean sheets.
They are also particularly strong at home, where they haven’t lost all season, recording eight wins and nine draws. By contrast, Orlando have been the epitome of inconsistent, blowing hot and cold throughout their regular season campaign and losing seven times on the road.
The other important factor to note is that although Orlando have scored four times against Nashville in the regular season, three of those goals came from set-pieces, rather than open play. Cut out the unnecessary fouls and suddenly it is hard to see where Orlando are going to score.
In what is sure to be a tough and hard-fought encounter between two teams that know each other well, the deciding factor could be Hany Mukhtar. Nashville’s star player, has scored 11 goals and recorded 12 assists this season, and is a leading contender for league MVP. He has the spark of creativity that complements Nashville’s defensive solidity and he can help them win this one.
|Seattle v RSL|
Seattle Sounders v Real Salt Lake, 2021-11-23
No team in recent history has been as consistent when it comes to the playoffs as the Seattle Sounders and they are strong favorites to progress at the expense of Real Salt Lake on Tuesday.
Their record is quite astonishing. They haven’t failed to reach at least the Conference Semi-Finals since their MLS debut in 2009, and doing so again this time would make it 13 in a row. They’ve also reached four of the last five MLS Cup Finals, winning two of them.
That is the history that Real Salt Lake are up against in this first-round playoff game, and it is a daunting task for a team that sneaked into the play-offs thanks to a 95th minute goal in their last game of the season. But the visitors are not without hope.
Despite ending up seventh in the Western Conference, RSL were one of the most prolific goalscoring teams in MLS. In fact, only Portland and Kansas found the net more often in the Western Conference. Their offensive strength was based on the contributions of Damir Kreilach, who scored 16, and Albert Rusnak, who bagged 11, and that scoring potential means that they will always have a chance.
Still, Seattle are not likely to be too concerned. They finished the regular season in scrappy fashion, going six games without a win, but over the course of the campaign, they boasted the joint-best defensive record in MLS. They also finished with the second-best goal difference figure in the league.
Coach Brian Schmetzer is also another factor in Seattle’s favor. Having an experienced coach at the helm at this stage of the season can make all the difference, and Seattle will be further boosted by the fact that Freddy Juarez, who spent most of the season with RLS, is now Schmetzer’s assistant and will presumably be able to give him the inside track on some of their opponents.
To cap it all, Seattle also boast a dangerous, high-energy attack, featuring Golden Boot runner-up Raul Ruidiaz, who will give RSL plenty to think about here. Upsets are one of the most exciting features of the MLS playoffs but I can’t see one here and Seattle should cruise through this one.