2018 MLS Cup Playoffs: Betting the First Leg of the Conference Semifinals

2018 MLS Cup Playoffs: Betting the First Leg of the Conference Semifinals article feature image

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan (7) kicks the ball away from Portland Timbers defender Julio Cascante

  • The MLS Cup Playoffs continue on Sunday with four opening leg matchups in the conference semifinals, highlighted by Portland-Seattle (5 p.m. ET) and NYC FC-Atlanta United (7:30 p.m ET).
  • Every moneyline is listed at plus-money odds so we could be in store for a very competitive day.
  • There's been notable betting activity in each matchup and I've picked out two value plays to make.

After an exciting knockout round which saw three road teams advance, the MLS Cup playoffs continue with conference semifinal action all day Sunday.

Eastern Conference:
Byes: New York Red Bulls (#1), Atlanta United (#2)
Knockout Round: New York City FC (#3) beat Philadelphia Union, Columbus Crew (#5) beat D.C. United (#4)

Semifinals: New York Red Bulls (#1) vs. Columbus Crew (#5), Atlanta United (#2) vs. New York City FC (#3)

Western Conference:
Byes: Sporting Kansas City (#1), Seattle Sounders (#2)
Knockout Round: Real Salt Lake (#6) beat LAFC (#3), Portland Timbers (#5) beat FC Dallas (#4).

Semifinals: Sporting Kansas City (#1) vs. Real Salt Lake (#6), Seattle Sounders (#2) vs. Portland Timbers (#5)

Every matchup should be competitive but the most intriguing is out west with Seattle taking on rivals Portland. The Sounders are looking to make their third straight MLS Cup final after they won in 2016, but lost in a rematch to Toronto FC in 2017.

2018 MLS Cup Odds

  • The Red Bulls were +2850 to win MLS Cup at their highest point back in April, but they’re now the clear favorites at +300.
  • Real Salt Lake moved from +10000 to +1600 over the last week due to their miracle qualification into the playoffs.
  • Seattle struggled for the early portion of the season and reached +6000 in August, but they’re now +1200 and second-favorites to win the west.

The conference semifinal matchups consist of two legs with each club playing a home match. The “worse” seed will play the first leg at home.

After analyzing the betting market for each matchup in this season’s conference semifinals, I’ve picked out two value plays. (Odds and betting %’s as of Saturday 7 p.m. ET)

MLS Season Record: 51-55-3 for +31.02 units and 29% ROI

Columbus Crew vs. New York Red Bulls (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET on ESPN)

  • Columbus Odds: +125
  • NY Red Bulls Odds: +230
  • Draw Odds: +240
  • Over/Under: 2.5 (o-108)

Columbus advanced to the conference semifinals after surviving extra time and penalty kicks at D.C. United in the knockout round. They’ll be the underdogs once again against New York, but the Crew are unbeaten in their last three matches against the Red Bulls dating back to 2017.

The Red Bulls are looking to win their first ever MLS Cup and will have home-field advantage in the final if they get there. All the pressure is on the Supporters Shield winners and they’re also the clear-cut favorites (3-1) to win the title.

However, it’s the Crew who are the favorites to win the first leg of the semifinals with +125 odds. Early bettors weren’t so sure about that and the line moved up to +140, but it’s been bet back down to the opening number.

Columbus just endured 120 minutes and PKs and won’t be as rested as the Red Bulls, so it’s easy to see why the early action would be on New York as the better overall team.

While the Columbus and New York moneylines have adjusted back to the openers, the draw has dropped down to +240 and stayed there. I’ll be siding with the sharper money here and expecting a stalemate in the first leg of the semifinals.

The Bet: Draw +240

Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders (Sunday, 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN)

  • Portland Odds: +135
  • Seattle Odds: +230
  • Draw Odds: +225
  • Over/Under: 2.5 (u-115)

The Portland Timbers advanced to the conference semifinals by knocking off FC Dallas, 2-1, while their rivals Seattle Sounders have been rested and waiting. The Timbers won two of three meetings between the clubs this season.

Portland opened +125 for the first leg but odds have increased to +135. Bettors have been split on both sides, but all the sharper money has been on the draw, dropping the line from +250 to +225.

Despite the heavy shift already, I’m still going with the draw, especially with considerable action on the under (2.5 u-115). There’s not much separation between these two teams and it’s setting up to be a tight 1-1 game.

The Bet: Draw +225

NYC FC vs. Atlanta United (Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1)

  • NYC FC Odds: +125
  • Atlanta Odds: +230
  • Draw Odds: +240
  • Over/Under: 2.5 (o-122)

NYC FC and Atlanta United drew both meetings this season, but the hosts have the advantage on Sunday night following their 3-1 win over Philadelphia in the knockout round.

There hasn’t been much line movement yet, but NYC FC’s odds have shifted slightly from +129 to +123. The majority of early bets has also come in on the home team.

The over/under of 3 goals is the highest of the semifinal matchups, and of course public bettors are still peppering the over. I lean toward the over as well but I haven’t fared well betting games at Yankee Stadium this season, so I’ll be laying off this one entirely.

The Bet: PASS

Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting Kansas City (Sunday, 10 p.m. ET on ESPN2)

  • Real Salt Lake Odds: +188
  • Sporting KC Odds: +145
  • Draw Odds: +250
  • Over/Under: 3 (u-135)

Sunday’s four-match marathon wraps up in Utah with surprise hosts Real Salt Lake taking on Sporting Kansas City, the top seed in the west. We could see another shocker in this matchup with RSL unbeaten in the last four head-to-head meetings.

Sporting KC opened as the slight favorites (+155) and are now at +145 behind the majority of bets. It doesn’t seem like bettors are sold on Real Salt Lake yet, but the road side will be without key defender Seth Sinovic due to suspension.

The moneylines are all spot-on and I don’t see much value anywhere in this game right now. There’s plenty of time for bettors to get down since it’s the last game of the night, so I’m curious to see where odds shift.

The Bet: PASS

Value Plays

  • Columbus-NY Red Bulls Draw (+240)
  • Portland-Seattle Draw (+225)

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