Major League Soccer Betting Odds, Picks, Preview: New England Revolution Favored to Win MLS Cup
Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald. Pictured: New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner hosts the MLS Supporters’ Shield.
The format and size of the MLS Cup Playoffs have changed repeatedly during Major League Soccer’s 26 years of existence. There’s one constant, though: The logic of the regular season is generally meaningless.
The sooner you understand that, the sooner you’ll have a chance at wagering successfully on the MLS postseason, which is a relatively unique phenomenon in the soccer world.
Of all the leagues The Action Network regularly covers, only MLS crowns its champion with a playoff format. Only a few other leagues anywhere in the world use one — including, most notably, Liga MX in Mexico.
For bettors, there’s some basics you should be aware of. While the playoff format will be more familiar to fans of major North American sports than to other soccer fans, the wagering conforms to soccer norms.
Unless otherwise stated, your bets apply over 90 minutes rather than any potential overtime or penalty kicks. This impacts the money line, total goals, goal scorers and props. Remember it. Additionally, there are some futures opportunities that don’t occur in your average league match.
Most sportsbooks offer the opportunity to bet on a team “to advance,” meaning that wager also includes extra time and penalties. And if it gets that far, there are prop opportunities on penalties you might be able to take advantage of if you study teams’ goalkeepers and penalty takers.
That’s a good start. Now, here’s a look at each conference.
2021 MLS Playoffs Odds
*Odds via BetMGM
|New England Revolution||+300|
|Sporting Kansas City||+650|
|New York City FC||+1250|
|Orlando City SC||+1500|
|Real Salt Lake||+2200|
|New York Red Bulls||+2500|
MLS Postseason Outlook
Saturday, Nov. 20
Philadelphia vs. New York Red Bulls | 2:30 p.m. ET | Univision & fuboTV
Sunday, Nov. 21
New York City FC vs. Atlanta United | 3 p.m. ET | ABC & fuboTV
Tuesday, Nov. 23
Nashville vs. Orlando City | 8 p.m. ET | FS1 & fuboTV
Analysis & Overview
The New England Revolution ran away with the Eastern Conference regular season title to earn a first-round bye. In the process, they also claimed the Supporters’ Shield with an MLS-record 73 points.
That might only heighten the pressure on manager Bruce Arena to end the club’s long history of postseason heartbreak.
The Revolution have reached five MLS Cup finals, losing all of them. Most recently, Arena coached the Los Angeles Galaxy to their fifth MLS Cup title in 2014 at New England’s expense.
The remaining six playoff clubs finished within six points of each other, and it wouldn’t be a major surprise to see any of them win their first-round match. Third seed Nashville’s 33 goals conceded is tied for fewest in the Eastern Conference and its +22 goal difference is second best overall.
Fourth seed New York City FC leads all of MLS is a +22.5 expected goals difference. And No. 2 seed Philadelphia is hoping to avenge last year’s disappointment after winning the shield, but losing in the playoffs to New England.
Saturday, Nov. 20
Sporting Kansas City vs. Vancouver Whitecaps | 5 p.m. ET | UniMás & fuboTV
Sunday, Nov. 21
Portland Timbers vs. Minnesota United | 5:30 p.m. ET | ESPN & fuboTV
Tuesday, Nov. 23
Seattle Sounders vs. Real Salt Lake | 10:30 p.m. ET | FS1 & fuboTV
Analysis & Overview
While the East’s top seed was decided weeks in advance, the West went down to the final day, with Colorado emerging as the surprise victory. The Rapids weren’t on anyone’s list of preseason favorites, and still aren’t the top conference on some futures markets.
Colorado also lack the star-power of second-place Seattle and third-place Sporting Kansas City. However, the Rapids have boasted stellar home form, losing only once at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
Now, they’ll play there throughout the bracket and also host an MLS Cup final against anyone other than New England. And even if the Denver area isn’t known for having the most ferocious MLS supporters, the altitude is a very real edge.
Overall, there’s reason to expect a little more chalk. The home teams in the first round finished an average of nine points above the visitors. However, fifth-seeded Minnesota did wind up with a +5.4 xGDiff and has two wins already over fourth-seeded Portland, which finished with a -8.0 xGDiff this season.
Three Things to Watch
Addition From Within: Several teams have obvious opportunities to get more from their roster than during the regular season because of players recovering from injury issues. Seattle’s Raúl Ruidíaz, Nicolás Lodeiro and Jordan Morris have yet to start a match together, but are expected to be available.
Sporting Kansas City’s Alan Pulido missed most of the last two months, but could add a third goal-scoring threat with an expected return from knee surgery. And striker Jaroslaw Niezgoda has made only three starts for Portland after working back from an ACL tear after scoring seven goals in 17 games a season ago.
Bye? Or Bye-Bye?: Arena has expressed some concern over New England earning a first-round bye and with good reason. With the playoffs opening following a FIFA international window, the Revs face a 23-day break between their Decision Day regular-season finale and Eastern Conference semifinal.
Out west, the Rapids face only a slightly more manageable 18-day break.
In 2019 — the only previous time this 14-team format has been played — New York City FC lost its East semifinal after a bye. Out West, Los Angeles Football Club beat the L.A. Galaxy in a semifinal after their bye before succumbing to Seattle at home in the West final.
(Note: The 2020 playoff field was expanded to 18 teams due to the pandemic.)
Time For New Blood? Despite MLS parity, only five teams have played in the last six MLS Cup finals. Two of those clubs — Toronto FC and Columbus — failed to reach this postseason.
So, we’ll either see a new face in the final for the first time since 2014 or Seattle or Portland hosting Atlanta United.
Overall Analysis & Thoughts
We’ll break down individual matches more in the coming days, but my opening suggestion is to pay attention to intuition a bit more and track record a bit less.
Playoff games are different. And the numbers show it.
For example, only seven of 25 teams to win the Supporters’ Shield for earning the best regular season record have gone on to win the MLS Cup.
Scoring can also fluctuate far from regular-season norms. In 2019, playoff contests averaged 4.08 goals per game, more than a goal more than regular season matches that year. In 2007, there were only 1.74 goals per playoff match, nearly one below that year’s regular-season average.
And for me, the biggest story is whether Arena and New England can make good on the foundation they’ve laid in the regular season. The Revolution are a founding MLS member and Arena’s five MLS Cup career began in the league’s inaugural season with D.C. United.
If New England can complete the double, Arena will secure his reputation of greatness that took a hit with his failure in charge of the U.S. men’s national team in 2017. And the 2021 Revolution will seal their place as one of the greatest MLS sides of all time.