2018 MLS Cup Playoffs: How to Bet the Conference Championship Opening Legs

2018 MLS Cup Playoffs: How to Bet the Conference Championship Opening Legs article feature image

Peter G. Aiken – USA Today. Pictured: Sporting KC midfielder Krisztian Nemeth (9) attempts a shot on goal during the second half against Portland Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella

  • The opening legs of the 2018 MLS Conference Finals will kickoff on Sunday at 5 p.m. ET, starting with Atlanta United and New York Red Bulls (ESPN), followed by Portland Timbers hosting Sporting Kansas City at 7:30 p.m. ET (FS1).
  • Atlanta United and Sporting Kansas City are both short home favorites and receiving the bulk of public betting support.

The MLS Conference Championships have finally arrived after the International Break, and both Sunday contests are worth watching.

Keep in mind that the Conference Championships are both two-match series with each club getting a home game. Players may also be suspended due to yellow card accumulation prior to MLS Cup.

First, let’s take a look at how the playoffs have unfolded before getting into each Conference Championship opening leg.

Eastern Conference:

Knockout Round

Columbus Crew (#5) advanced past D.C. United (#4) in extra time, 2-1.

New York City FC (#3) advanced past Philadelphia Union (#6) by a 3-1 score.

Conference Semifinals

New York Red Bulls (#1) advanced past Columbus Crew (#3) by a 3-1 aggregate score.

Atlanta United (#2) advanced past New York City FC (#3) by a 4-1 aggregate score.

Western Conference:

Knockout Round

Real Salt Lake (#6) advanced past LAFC (#3) by a 3-2 score

Portland (#5) advanced past FC Dallas (#4) by a 2-1 score

Conference Semifinals

Sporting Kansas City (#1) advanced past Real Salt Lake (#6) by a 5-3 aggregate score

Portland Timbers (#5) advanced past Seattle Sounders (#2) in PKs

2018 MLS Cup Odds

  • Atlanta United are still the clear favorites at +150 odds, and the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals will host the 2018 MLS Cup.
  • Sporting KC, Portland and NY Red Bulls were all around +2500 at their highest odds back in April. Atlanta United never reached above +600 at any point during the season.

Below I’ve analyzed the betting market for each matchup and picked out a value play to make.

MLS Season Record: 52-59-3 for +28.32 units and 26% ROI

(Odds are always on the move until kickoff, so be sure to follow all the latest lines and betting percentages here)

New York Red Bulls at Atlanta United (Sunday, 5 p.m. ET on ESPN)

  • NY Red Bulls Odds: +323
  • Atlanta United Odds: -113
  • Draw Odds: +226
  • Over/Under: 3 (u-135)

The #1 overall seed New York Red Bulls have never lost to Atlanta United, winning three of four matches and drawing the other. If they’re to finally reach the MLS Cup Final, Atlanta may be the perfect opponent.

Both New York and Atlanta were dominant in the regular season, sporting goal differentials of +31 and +29, respectively, with each club winning 23 of 36 matches. Home-field advantage awaits in the championship game for whichever team advances.

The first leg of the two-match series is crucial as it will set the tone for the return game in New York.

Atlanta United opened -122 for the opening home leg, but the line has dropped down to -113 despite more than 70% of bets on Atlanta United. There’s clearly been some sharp money on the Red Bulls floating around the market to win/draw.

The total opened at 3 goals (u-135) and has remained there all week with very little movement on the juice. The majority of bets has come in on the Over, but sportsbooks haven’t bothered budging the odds.

I think it’s smart to take the contrarian angle here and side with New York Red Bulls +0.5 (+105) to get a win or draw.

The Bet: New York Red Bulls +0.5 (+105)


Sporting Kansas City at Portland Timbers (Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1)

  • Sporting KC Odds: +207
  • Portland Odds: +140
  • Draw Odds: +240
  • Over/Under: 2.5 (o-107)

Sporting Kansas City come into this match hotter than any other club and have a great opportunity to earn a result in the opening leg of the Western Conference Finals.

They also haven’t lost to Portland since 2016, a string of four straight matches, and haven’t conceded a goal to the Timbers all season.

Despite the dominance of KC over Portland, odds for the opening leg are very tight. Sporting KC opened +192 and drifted to +207 despite more than 65% of moneyline tickets.

The Timbers have barely seen any public support, but their odds have improved from +150 to +140.

I had already been leaning Portland in the week leading up to the game, and love the contrarian value at plus-money. They may not advance to MLS Cup, but I think they’ve got a great chance of winning the first leg at home.

The Bet: Portland Timbers (+140)

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