MLS Conference Championships: Do the New York Red Bulls or Portland Timbers Have a Chance to Advance?

MLS Conference Championships: Do the New York Red Bulls or Portland Timbers Have a Chance to Advance? article feature image

Jason Getz – USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Atlanta United celebrating a goal in the first leg of the MLS Conference Championship

  • The second leg of the MLS Conference Championships will take place Thursday night, starting with New York Red Bulls-Atlanta United (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1) and followed by Sporting Kansas City-Portland Timbers (9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN).
  • Atlanta United have a commanding 3-0 lead heading into New York, while Sporting KC and Portland drew 0-0 in the first leg.
  • Sharp and public bettors have been dabbling in both matches so far and I like the value on two plays (Season Record: 52-61-3 for +26.32 units).

We’re just two matches away from MLS Cup 2018 on December 8th, and the scenarios heading in the East and West could not be more different.

On Thursday night, the New York Red Bulls will attempt to overcome a 3-0 series deficit at home against Atlanta United, while Sporting KC and Portland are knotted 0-0.

Here’s a look at MLS Cup odds throughout the season before getting into each Conference Championship second leg.

2018 MLS Cup Odds

  • Atlanta United are now the overwhelming -175 favorites to win MLS Cup 2018 with a 3-0 lead over New York Red Bulls and home-field advantage in the final.
  • The Red Bulls’ odds would likely be closer to +2000 or +2500 if not for home-field advantage in the final, but they’re currently at +1600.
  • Sporting KC are down to +300, their lowest odds of the season, and they reached as high as +2500 back in April.
  • The Portland Timbers need a win/draw to advance past Sporting KC and odds of winning the Cup are now +900, just around the same as preseason and June.

Below I’ve analyzed the betting market for each Conference Championship and picked out two value plays to make.

2018 MLS Season Record: 52-61-3 for +26.32 units (23% ROI)

Atlanta United at New York Red Bulls (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1)

  • Atlanta United Odds: +290
  • NY Red Bulls Odds: -115
  • Draw Odds: +310
  • Over/Under: 3 (u-120)
  • Odds to Advance: Atlanta -2000, New York +1000

Atlanta United finally got off the schneid against New York in the opening home leg, winning 3-0 and putting themselves in a very comfortable position to advance to MLS Cup 2018.

It was the first time Atlanta United had ever defeated the Red Bulls.

No MLS team has ever won a playoff series after going down three goals in the first leg, so history could be made with a Red Bulls blowout victory tonight.

However, a key factor will be the health of defender Kemar Lawrence, who missed the opening leg due to injury. He’s still being listed as questionable and may be a true game-time decision.

In order to have any real chance of advancing, NY will have to score the first goal and likely keep a clean sheet. If Atlanta United score at any point in the game, the Red Bulls would need at least five goals.

Oddsmakers don’t feel especially confident in New York, and neither do the majority of public bettors. The Red Bulls opened -115 and briefly dropped to -110 before moving back up to -115, and only 22% of tickets has come in on NY.

Even though Atlanta United don’t need to win, they’ve attracted more than 60% of bets as +290 underdogs.

My bet on the Red Bulls +0.5 in the opening leg fell flat on its face, but I’m not completely counting them out in the second leg. They may not score enough to advance, but they have the edge at home and I like the value at -115 to win.

The Bet: NY Red Bulls (-115)


Portland Timbers at Sporting Kansas City (9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN)

  • Portland Odds: +475
  • Sporting KC Odds: -175
  • Draw Odds: +320
  • Over/Under: 3 (u-125)
  • Odds to Advance: Sporting KC -220, Portland +175

The Portland Timbers had a solid game plan to beat Sporting KC in the opening leg but couldn’t quite find the goal necessary to win. As a result, they’ve got some work to do in Kansas City on Thursday night.

Portland haven’t found the back of the net in any of their three matches vs. Sporting KC this season (two 0-0 draws and a 3-0 loss). To make matters worse, central defender Larrys Mabiala was injured in the opening leg and is very iffy for the return leg in KC.

One glimmer of hope is that the total has been set fairly high at 3 goals, and the juice has been shifted toward the over. Oddsmakers and sharp bettors believe the teams will finally finish chances and score some goals.

In terms of the moneyline, Sporting KC opened -190 around the market but have come down to -170/-175. Bettors haven’t been shy about taking the road side with more than 60% of tickets on Portland, and their odds have improved from +575 to +475.

Although the Timbers are a trendy road underdog, hardly anyone is taking the spread (+1 goal) or draw (+325). I’ve been impressed enough by Portland’s play to think they can at least keep this a one-goal game, so that’s what I’m betting tonight.

The Bet: Portland +1 (-115) 

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