2023 MLS Season Preview: Best Bets, Player Props Ahead of Opening Weekend

2023 MLS Season Preview: Best Bets, Player Props Ahead of Opening Weekend article feature image

Scott Taetsch/Getty. Pictured: Mikael Uhre.

For soccer bettors who like a little bit of crazy to their action, the 2023 MLS Season begins this weekend. 

This is a notoriously unpredictable league. If you’re a futures bettor, there are ways to leverage that to your advantage, even if your approach might be considerably different from betting leagues in Europe.

With that in mind, let’s look at the MLS Cup and MLS Golden Boot markets, and I’ll give a couple of my top early-season plays as well as a rationale for the approach.

2023 MLS Season Preview

MLS Cup Futures

For a fifth consecutive season, LAFC are most oddsmakers’ favorite to win the whole thing — this time as a repeat champion. But many MLS observers believe the 2022 runners-up Philadelphia Union (+700) are more of a sure thing.

Should you play them now? I’m inclined to say not yet, based on one key rule I abide by in MLS Cup futures wagering. Don’t bet on teams while they’re still involved in the CONCACAF Champions League.

The CCL is notoriously taxing on MLS teams, whose rosters can be top-heavy. Even those that survive CCL to make a playoff run often have slow starts. See 2022 CF Montreal, who lost their first three games before finishing second in the Eastern Conference.

If you like either of last year’s finalists, wait until this is over. At worst you’ll pay a bit more and be more confident in what the personnel situation is following a period of heavy use.

The teams in the tier beneath those two all have too many questions to jump on at their current prices. New York City FC are going through a significant squad overhaul. Austin FC significantly outperformed their analytics last season. The New York Red Bulls and their relentless high press don’t have a great postseason history. Montreal parted with their coach and their best two creative midfielders. The LA Galaxy are facing a summer international transfer ban.

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Charlotte FC (+6600 via BetRivers)

This price has climbed since I bet it at +6000, which is a little odd. The Crown parted ways with their first manager less than halfway through their expansion season, and played to an 8-10-2 mark (W-L-D) under Christian Lattanzio, earning 26 points in their last 20 games.

History suggests expansion teams that begin with respectable performances in year one have a pretty good shot at a significant improvement in year two.  Six of the last nine expansion teams earned more points in their second season than in their first. Atlanta United won the 2018 MLS Cup in their second season and LAFC won the 2019 Supporters’ Shield.

Charlotte profiles similarly to Austin FC and Nashville SC. The former reached the West final in their second year. The latter has finished in the top half of the table in years two and three.

Seattle Sounders (+2100 via FanDuel)

The Sounders are the ultimate example of a team who were impacted by the CCL burden last season.

In fact, Seattle became the first team to win CCL, but at a heavy cost, failing to reach the playoffs for the first time since joining MLS in 2009. They won’t be playing continental soccer this season, which should help a roster that remains very talented, if a bit veteran-heavy. 

They’ve also returned 2021 MLS MVP finalist Joao Paulo, who tore his ACL in the 2022 CCL final and thus missed most of the season. They upgraded significantly at reserve forward with Heber as an alternative option to Raul Ruidiaz.

Originally, I bet this at +2900, but odds have already been slashed to this current number.

Pick: Seattle Sounders +2100 to win MLS Cup

MLS Golden Boot Futures

Since the MLS Golden Boot award began in 2005 (replacing a goals plus assists scoring champion), there has been a distinct profile of the player who wins. 

No one has won it in back-to-back seasons. And in the era of more rapid expansion — i.e. in the last 10 seasons — no one has won it who is beyond their fourth season in the league or older than the age of 32 when the season begins. 

Amazingly, if you factor in those criteria, you eliminate the top three names and seven of the top 11 names on FanDuel’s board.

It’s always possible that there will be an exception to this trend in 2023, but it’s highly unlikely you’ll see multiple contenders emerge who defy those trends. I’m inclined to bargain shop again and try to lock in profits later when the race takes shape.

Here are the three players I’ve bet so far.

Sebastian Driussi (+1400 via FanDuel)

I’m not completely bullish on Driussi to repeat his 22-goal antics of 2022 to finish second in last year’s race. However, the floor is pretty high, given that he’s less saddled with the burden of also creating chances than 2022 winner Hany Mukhtar.

The 2022 campaign was his third scoring double-digit goals, and his 17-goal campaign in his last season in Argentina as a 20-year old is probably more indicative of future performance than when he was less frequently used during his time in the Russian Premier League.

Juan "Cucho" Hernandez (+1600 via Caesars)

Here’s a textbook example of a player who could build on a promising first half of a season, and his 0.63 goals per 90 minutes is more likely to climb than fall in 2023.

Why? Something was very obviously awry in Columbus as a matter of overall tactics the last two seasons, when the Crew backed up their 2020 MLS Cup victory by finishing in the bottom third of the Eastern Conference in xG created in 2021 and 2022. 

Things should be a lot more open under new manager Wilfried Nancy, whose Montreal teams finished in the top half of the East in xG in 2021 and 2022, despite similar talent.

Mikael Uhre (+3300 via BetMGM)

Uhre only finished third on the Union in scoring in 2022 behind career years from Julian Carranza and MVP candidate Daniel Gazdag. But it’s also year two in the MLS for the striker, who was Philly’s leader in scoring efficiency at 0.72 goals per 90 minutes despite battling injuries last year.

He also has the best goal-scoring track record of the trio, having won the Danish scoring title at Brondby during the 2020-2021 campaign. He was on pace to do so again during 2021-2022 before his transfer to the Union.

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