2021 MLS Season Betting Odds & Preview: Favorites, Sleepers, Longshots & Golden Boot Picks
Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images. Pictured: The Columbus Crew
When the 2021 Major League Soccer regular season begins this weekend, it will come with some lucrative wagering opportunities for knowledgeable bettors.
Despite recent growth, MLS remains relatively lightly-bet compared to other North American sports, as well as other soccer leagues around the world. And that means its more savvy followers might more easily suss out value the public — and at times, oddsmakers — don’t quite understand.
To that end, here’s what you should be thinking about as you eye the early MLS futures markets.
2021 MLS Cup Futures
For those who bet on other soccer leagues, remember that MLS futures are based on a playoff system to crown a champion, rather than the final regular season league table. This evens the market out quite a bit compared to, say, Spain, where only a handful of sides have even remote title hopes when the season starts.
And it opens the chance to hedge out futures on Cinderella teams that make the playoffs but are title long shots. (Think Nashville SC or the San Jose Earthquakes in 2020.)
Like a Favorite? Wait a While
Early favorites like LAFC (+400), the Seattle Sounders (+600) or the Columbus Crew (+550) just might win MLS Cup. But if you like them, wait to bet on them anyway.
Only one of the last nine winners of the Supporters’ Shield — awarded to the top regular season finisher — has won MLS Cup in the same season, suggesting the price for the eventual champion may not be sky high when the playoffs roll around.
In fact, four of the last six MLS champs have seen their price rise above their opening weekend value at least once during their title season (If you consider the mid-August restart as the beginning of the 2020 campaign.)
The 2015 Portland Timbers and 2016 Seattle Sounders hit their longest odds in June after early-season swoons. The 2019 Seattle Sounders were cheapest for bettors in July and August, and and last year Columbus was slightly less expensive after the final day of the regular season than at the August restart.
Dark Horse Value
Only six teams have played in the last six MLS Cup finals. And two of those clubs are lurking deep down in some futures markets for unclear reasons.
- The Portland Timbers (+2500 on Unibet) won last year’s MLS is Back Tournament, then lost key attackers Sebastian Blanco and Jaroslaw Niezgoda to ACL tears before the regular season ended. Still, the Timbers managed a third-place finish in the Western Conference. They return most of their roster, with Blanco and Niezgoda both on their way back to full health before the postseason. And manager Giovanni Savarese has excelled in knockout play, reaching two competition finals in three seasons in Portland.
- Atlanta United (+3000 on Unibet) had a miserable 2020 that resulted in the dismissal of coach Frank de Boer and a finish outside the postseason for the first time in the club’s four-year history. There’s little reason to think 2021 will be a carryover, though. Club all-time leading scorer Josef Martinez is back after tearing his ACL in the first game of the 2020 campaign. Imports Jurgen Damm and Marcelino Moreno have had time to acclimate after arriving during an already sideways season in last year’s secondary transfer window. And the club continues to have a level of fan support and financial commitment that puts it in excellent position to make whatever roster moves necessary. It would be a small shock if new manager Gabriel Heinze fares as poorly as de Boer did.
We talked about playoff hedging earlier. Here’s a couple teams that could fit that bill:
- It’s hard for expansion teams like Austin FC (+6600 on Unibet) to reach the playoffs, but not impossible. And Texas’ third MLS club may have a built-in edge with their schedule. Because Q2 Stadium won’t open until July, Austin will play its first seven league matches away. History suggests that may be an advantage, since teams can build momentum over a home-heavy back half of the schedule to make a postseason push.
- The books really dislike the San Jose Earthquakes (+15000 on Unibet) despite enigmatic coach Matias Almeyda’s side reaching the expanded 2020 playoffs. The algorithms are probably alarmed at San Jose’s -16 goal difference during league play last year. But much of that can be explained through Almeyda’s all-or-nothing, man-marking style earns results at can be more susceptible to blowout losses on bad days. Fortunately, the Quakes have made two low-profile but savvy midfield additions with experience in Almeyda’s system, Javier Eduardo Lopez at Chivas of Guadalajara and Eric Remedi at Banfield. San Jose’s inherent streakiness also has value when one heater can make you a playoff team, or even a champion.
2021 Top Scorer Futures
Secondly, if you believe in trends, there’s a huge one at play:
The 3-Year Rule
In the last eight seasons, the winner of the MLS Golden Boot has had no more than three seasons of MLS experience. And over all 25 years, the top scorer has played three or fewer seasons in MLS 17 times. That makes sense in a mid-tier league that is a career stepping stone for some players and a last stop for others.
But in 2021, most of the the top-scorer favorites entering 2021 are in at least their fourth MLS go-round. If you include Phiadelphia’s Kacper Przybylko (who will have been on Philly’s books for four seasons but have appeared in only three), it’s eight of the top 10 favorites on Unibet or DraftKings. The only two within the three-year window are Gonzalo Higuain at Inter Miami, a club that appears to lack a clear vision, and 2020 MLS MVP Alejandro Pozuelo, who is as much provider as finisher.
To stay within the three-year rule, consider these enticing value plays:
- Second-year Chicago Fire FC forward Robert Beric (+2800 on DraftKings) scored 10 goals in his last 12 matches in his debut season to finish tied for second in the MLS Golden Boot behind Diego Rossi.
- Sporting Kansas City’s Alan Pulido (+2800 on DraftKings) battled injury last year, but scored 12 goals in the LigaMX 2019 Apertura, which is a pace north of 20 goals over a longer MLS season.
If you insist on one of the more established names, at least stay away from defending goals champion Diego Rossi. For the 23-year-old Uruguayan, it’s a matter of when, not if, he moves to Europe. And if he’s close to replicating his Golden Boot pace again in 2021, some club is going to make LAFC a transfer offer it can’t refuse.
2021 MLS Cup Odds
Odds via DraftKings.
|New England Revolution||+1800|
|New York Red Bulls||+4000|
|Real Salt Lake||+10000|
|San Jose Earthquakes||+15000|