Round 1 Recap:
Despite being a completely insane, “only-in-MLS”, kind of Round 1 on the field, the first round of the MLS playoffs were pretty kind to my pocketbook. Some of the questions about “contenders” showed up big time: Can SKC defend at a high enough level to win the whole thing? Probably not. Could TFC flip the switch from their late season form back to their mid season form? Hell no. Would Philadelphia come out flat after the emotional high of winning Supporters Shield? Yup. But one thing you can pretty much always count on in MLS at this point is that the Seattle Sounders are a top team. When Lodeiro, Morris, and Ruidiaz all play, they may be the most efficient attack in the history of MLS. They looked legitimately unbeatable against LAFC. Each piece perfectly compliments the other: Lodeiro provides the picture perfect through ball for the strong, pacy Morris to cut in on and deliver the cut back to a clinical Ruidiaz to tuck away from inside the box. It’s a formula that has made them the best team in MLS all season long and it’s the formula that I believe will bring them another MLS Cup in December. It’s why we made them larger than any other bet in our futures bets and it’s why we’ll be using them to hedge the rest of the futures.
Let’s check in on those:
After round 1, the TFC and Colorado bets are dead. TFC is out mainly because their aging core, particularly Michael Bradley, appear to be on the wrong side of their career at this point. Colorado was always a longshot and may have been a “bet with the heart” for me. The Rapids are my team and, although I came up with an analytical reason to bet them, my heart was heavily involved in that one. Still, if Columbus, New England, SKC, or, most importantly, Seattle win the Cup, we will be profitable on futures bets. Not a bad spot to be. On to the quarterfinals..
Orlando City (-0.25) vs. New England Revolution–Total 2.75
I have lost a decent chunk of money betting on New England Revolution this year. They are the most seductive kind of team to a “sharp” soccer bettor. Their actual goal total of 25 lags significantly behind their expected goal total of 36, meaning they either have extremely wasteful strikers or there is some positive regression coming for the team. Getting ahead of regression, positive or negative, is one of the main objectives for any sports bettor. So naturally, I’ve been riding with the Revolution all season long.
The problem was, a good portion of the reason for the discrepancy between their expected and actual goals was actually due to wasteful strikers. When it’s Buchanan and Bunbury (whose wind up in front of goal is comically slow) trying to finish off the multitude of chances the Revolution create over the course of the game, you end up with a lot less goals. Luckily for me and New England though, in the playoffs, Carles Gil, Adam Buksa, and Gustavo Bou are all in form or back from injury to either create scoring chances or finish them off. Bou and Gil, in particular, are two of the most productive per 90 minute players in the league. The positive regression is coming at just the right time for the Revs after beating the shield-winning Philly team last weekend.
Unfortunately for both teams, Orlando City, may be the second best team left in the Eastern Conference. They have as formidable of a front four of any team in the league with Mueller, Dike, Nani, and Perereya. That quartet has only been shutout 3 times this season. It’s once you get behind the forwards and attacking midfield for Orlando that the problems begin. Their defense has been right around league average this year and that’s probably kind to them. They’ve been kept in games they probably should have lost by stellar play from their GK, Pedro Gallese. They will have to do it without him in this one after he got one of the worst red cards in recent memory in their last match. It just feels like slightly too tall of a task for the Lions with the Revs clicking the way they have been. They will almost definitely get a goal of their own, but New England should continue to put expected goals in the actual goal and win this one 2-1 or 3-1.
The Picks: New England +0.25 (-108) 2u, Over 2.75 (+102) 1u
Columbus Crew (-0.25) vs. Nashville SC– Total 2.25
There was a stage of the season in which I would have thought this was a no brainer. I would have written about how Columbus would relentlessly press on the Nashville low-block and squeak out a goal in the first half and then sit on the ball to a comfortable 1-0 win. But I really don’t effing know with this Nashville team anymore. With Jhonder Cadiz, they actually have a functioning attack. It’s not as if they’re ever going to be on the front foot in any game, but their 3 to 4 opportunities a game have become infinitely more dangerous now that Hany Mukhtar has an outlet with Cadiz up front. This game also has all kinds of Covid concerns. So, I am just going to pass and root for the Crew to beat the parked bus of Nashville.
The Picks: PASS
Seattle Sounders (-1) vs. FC Dallas– Total 2.75
If last week’s FC Dallas and Portland match had been a regular season match, I think we would have totally written it off. Dallas sat back for the majority of the game and were heavily outplayed by Portland, but got a little fortunate with a last minute goal when they had to go after the game, and then held on for a shootout win. Credit to them for doing what was necessary to advance, but color me unimpressed.
Seattle does struggle against teams who defend with ten (most notably Portland this season), but I’m not sure that FC Dallas is truly that strong of a defensive team. They are a year removed from being the worst defensive team in the league and have overperformed their expected goals against total this year. Besides that, asking Bryan Reynolds and Johnny Nelson to just stay home and not let Jordan Morris and Christian Roldan get behind them feels like a total handicapping of what makes them effective fullbacks. I see the Sounders catching one of those two too far up field and scoring an early goal and blowing the game open into another free-flowing-high-scoring game like they had last year. As FC Dallas pushes for a goal they may score, they certainly have talented attackers, but committing numbers forward against the Sounders is suicide. Seattle will almost definitely score multiple goals in that situation.
It’s rare that I’m shocked by a single game’s result in MLS, but I would be shocked if Seattle does not win this one. They are the far better team on average and will have the 3 best players on the pitch. The books feel the same as me and have made them the biggest favorites on the board, but I think the Sounders win this by multiple goals enough to make the goal spread bettable.
The Picks: Seattle -1 (+100) 1u, Over 2.75 (-115) 3u
Sporting KC (-1) vs. Minnesota United– Total 2.75
Speaking of open, free-flowing, high scoring games, we’re in for one here. Both of these teams love to push their entire team up the field when they have the ball and struggle to get back when they lose it. SKC has scored multiple goals in 6 of their last 9 games and so has Minnesota. Neither of these teams ever tries to sit back and grind out results. I absolutely love the Over 2.75 here and still like the Over 3 that this has moved to at a lot of books. When you have players like Reynoso, Molino, and Lod on one team and Pulido, Russel and Busio on the other, you have to like a lot of goals. Especially when you see them lining up against centerbacks like Reid and Boxall.
SKC allowed 3 goals against another one of the league’s most potent attacks last week and Minnesota certainly gave up an agonizing amount of scoring chances that my Colorado Rapids wasted. That makes SKC being the heavy favorite puzzling to me. These are two very similar teams in my eyes. SKC won both the regular season matchups, but Minnesota played without Lod and Reynoso in those two matches. Their attack is heavily boosted by those two players. SKC is deserving favorites, but are they Sounders over Dallas kind of favorites? Not to me. I like a 3-2 or 2-2 regulation result in this one.
The Picks Over 2.75 (-124) 4u, Minnesota +1 (-116) 1u