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March 15, 2019

MLS Matchweek 3 Lines: NYCFC Favored in Tough LAFC Fixture; Can Atlanta United Rebound?

High Press 10 March 15, 2019

Parity, anyone?

Heading into MLS matchweek 3, the Western Conference certainly appears to be the stronger division at the top. How do we know such things? Because despite only being two weeks into the season, LITERALLY EVERY SINGLE EASTERN CONFERENCE TEAM HAS DROPPED POINTS.

How is that even possible?

On the Best Coast, the Seattle Sounders, Minnesota (!!!) and LAFC have secured all six available points.

This week’s MLS match-ups will put LAFC to the test, as they find themselves as underdogs traveling to NYCFC. Minnesota are underdogs in a strong road challenge against Zlatan and LA Galaxy. Seattle travels as slight underdogs to play Chicago Fire.

Atlanta United, still struggling under first year manager Frank de Boer, will try to secure their first W of the season at home vs. Philadelphia Union. The New York Red Bulls host perennial bottom dwellers San Jose. These games will be a test for ATL and NYRB depth, as the clubs have played a heavy slate of tough games early this season thanks to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Also read: MLS Western Conference Preview | MLS Eastern Conference Preview

MLS Matchweek 3 Game Odds

Remember, home team is listed first. If you need a refresher, visit how to bet MLS or how to bet soccer.

All listed odds from FanDuel NJ Sportsbook.

Chicago Fire +135 Draw +250 Seattle Sounders +195
Columbus Crew -135 Draw +260 FC Dallas +390
New York Red Bulls -370 Draw +480 San Jose Earthquakes +850
Houston Dynamo -155 Draw +310 Vancouver Whitecaps +390
Orlando City +110 Draw +270 Montreal Impact +220
DC United -150 Draw +290 Real Salt Lake +410
LA Galaxy +120 Draw +260 Minnesota United +210
FC Cincinnati +140 Draw +250 Portland Timbers +185
Toronto FC -145 Draw +300 New England +360
Atlanta United -170 Draw +330 Philadelphia Union +410
Colorado Rapids +195 Draw +260 Sporting KC +130


The Genius (and Limitations) of the USWNT’s Equal-Pay Lawsuit

Avatar March 15, 2019

The US Soccer Federation (USSF) has been riding a roller coaster of agony and euphoria for several years running, from the stunning failure of the men’s national team to qualify for last year’s World Cup and the contentious presidential election that followed to the joy of the 2015 Women’s World Cup triumph and the awarding of 2026 men’s World Cup hosting rights.

The latest episode of soap-opera drama opened with a flourish one week ago Friday – International Women’s Day – as past and present members of USWNT filed a class-action lawsuit alleging “institutionalized gender discrimination” by the USSF.

USWNT just one of many complaints…

It’s a World Cup year for the USWNT. So in echoes of their 2015 adventures, the defending world champions are ramping up their final countdown to France ’19 with action not only on the field, but also on the docket and in the court of public opinion.

The latest in a string of contentious legal cases facing USSF, it joins complaints by the North American Soccer League, the US Soccer Foundation and Hope Solo, whose individual – and very similar to the USWNT’s – gender-equity case rumbles on and has already intertwined with the new one filed by her former teammates.

Like those, this is a complex topic, and defies easy conclusions once you plunge into it. For those in need of deeper context, The Athletic, Sports Illustrated and Yahoo Soccer, as well as this unique perspective from High Press Soccer, have posted informative pieces on the details and legal intricacies of the players’ litigation.

In a detailed, expansive argument running a shade under 25 pages in length, the legal counsel – which includes high-powered celebrity sports lawyer Jeffrey Kessler – for a group led by stars Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Christen Press, Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn laid out what they contend is a deep pattern of inequality and mistreatment compared to their male counterparts.

Will they be successful? There’s a lot going on here, much more than can be squeezed into one article. But here are a few factors to consider, some of them easily overlooked in all the sound and fury swirling around this topic.

*Chickens coming home to roost

The players are taking the next formal legal step in a process that began three years ago when they  filed a wage discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency that finally gave them clearance to file suit last month. That’s only part of the reason for the timing of Friday’s filing, which seems to have caught the federation by surprise.

The players and fed agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement two years ago that runs through 2021 and explicitly addresses some of the complaints in the new lawsuit. But the USWNT are about to step into the national and global spotlight thanks to their World Cup quest, providing them with a bully pulpit that’s only been amplified by the #MeToo movement and a wider societal shift on matters of equity and justice in the four years since they charmed the country on their title run. Not only that, it’s a fine time to paint the federation as the bad guys, given their recent string of slip-ups and setbacks.

That, combined with another savvy public-relations rollout by the players, has put the early wind at their backs. The USWNTers lined up a fairly massive wave of press coverage in the wake of their filing, making the morning talk-show rounds to state their case to largely sympathetic journalists and pundits in front of millions of viewers.

All that positive press is probably likely to continue all year, even if the team falls short of their goal of defending their world title. And with so many others nurturing beefs with the fed lately, there’s a distinct sense of karma biting back:

*The past is never dead

For their part, US Soccer and its leaders are laying low for now, keenly aware that the optics and zeitgeist are not in their favor. Their response will likely come in the courts, where it will take months, probably years, for this case to wind its way to resolution. The fed has navigated through these scenarios before.

There’s a deep, colorful backstory here. Multiple generations of USWNT players have clashed with USSF over the years, often frustrated by what they’ve perceived as double standards, paternalism and institutional sexism – not just at home but all the way up to the FIFA’s highest levels.

That’s at times led to awkward relations with the USMNT, which has a separate union and CBA of its own (in other countries, like Norway, who in 2017 instituted a landmark deal to pay their men’s and women’s national teamers exactly the same, the WNTs and MNTs are often represented by the same union).

On Friday, though, the men’s players union released a statement in support of the lawsuit, stating that “an equal division of revenue attributable to the MNT and WNT programs is our primary pursuit as we engage with the US Soccer Federation in collective bargaining” this year.

So what would that actually look like in practice? It’s tortuously difficult to tell, given that the path to a system based on “an equal division of attributable revenue” is fairly unprecedented and winds through the arduous give-and-take of two separate collective-bargaining processes.

*The dangers of complexity

As is common in the early stages, this lawsuit contains a laundry list of complaints and allegations, and not all of them will stand up as well in court as they do in the headlines and social-media posts.

While the general concept of equal pay for all is an easy one to rally support for, the differences between the MNT and WNT’s contract situations are big enough that even the players themselves have conceded that they are seeking “equitable” and not necessarily “equal” conditions as the men.

As Sauerbrunn told SI:

“We’re trying to figure out where women’s soccer is going, so we may not have the same exact structure as the men…So equal isn’t the right word. It would be equitable, because we are asking for a different structure.”

The core of the USWNT roster are full-time federation employees, a rare arrangement in world soccer, where players tend to work for club teams and are more like contractors when called up to their national team, as is the case with the USMNT. US Soccer makes this investment in the women’s team in order to provide them with stability in a wider environment marked by chronically low club wages and two failed US professional leagues this century.

When male players don’t get called up to the national team, they don’t get paid by their federation. But the USWNT enjoy guaranteed contracts (renewed on an annual basis) that include benefits like maternity leave, childcare on road trips and a guaranteed minimum number of matches per year – and that last bit is important, as each match and training camp is a chance to earn per-game and performance-related bonus pay.

The current CBA, signed in 2017, has arguably addressed some of the worst injustices plaguing the WNT, including inequities in bonus pay, travel arrangements and matches on artificial turf. Of 34 home matches since the start of 2017, only three have been played on turf, one of which was a record crowd in the burgeoning soccer hotbed of Cincinnati. Another example: Though the lawsuit uses older date ranges that strengthen their case, over the past year or so the women have flown on more charter flights than the men.

From the USSF point of view, that’s a highly progressive setup in the chauvinistic environment of world soccer, where most women’s national teams are chronically overlooked and underfunded. FIFA, not US Soccer, sets budgets and payouts that are much smaller for Women’s World Cups than their men’s equivalents, setting the tone for a global patriarchy that forces female players in other countries to struggle just to compete, much less carve out sustainable and lucrative careers.

From the players’ perspective, the fed has made some movement towards true equity between the genders, but remains well short of what’s needed. The big question is how they prove that in court. This World Cup year provides them with a platform to make their case, but that’s only the first step.

Will The La Liga Title Race Heat Up In April And May?

Tyler Everett March 15, 2019

With just one Spanish club left in the Champions League Quarterfinals, now seems like a good time to ask: Can Atlético Madrid win La Liga?

Mathematically, Diego Simeone‘s side absolutely could pull it off. On paper, a seven-point deficit with 11 games to play is far from insurmountable. But there’s a reason FiveThirtyEight currently gives Los Rojiblancos just a 3% chance to take home the La Liga crown. Anyone who’s seen Barcelona’s recent form probably agrees with FiveThirtyEight’s assessment.

Nobody’s calling this race a toss-up, but can we at least expect it to remain compelling until the season wraps up on May 19? Unfortunately, no. Anyone hoping for drama as the domestic season wraps up is going to be disappointed.

It’s not that Atlético is likely to falter in league play, although it will be interesting to see how this team responds following Tuesday’s disastrous capitulation against longtime nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus. The good news is they should be ready for Barcelona on April 6th considering their opponents before then are 12th-place Athletic Bilbao, fifth-place Alavés and 14th-place Girona.

Barcelona Just Too Good

It’s much more a matter of Barcelona’s current form, as well as the quality of their remaining La Liga opponents, that make a cruise to the finish line for the Catalans the most likely outcome. Even if Atleti can beat Barça, it’s hard to imagine the Madrid club making up the other four points that would be separating these teams without any other losses.

Barcelona is 19-6-2 in La Liga and they made a statement in Wednesday’s 5-1 win over Lyon in the Champions League. While this team has looked beatable in recent weeks, the bad news for Atleti is that the “swoon” appears to be a thing of the past.

For the first three weeks of February, Barcelona was out of sorts offensively, scoring just four goals in six games from Feb. 2-19. None of their opponents made them pay, though, and that’s why it’s going to take somewhat of a collapse by Ernesto Valverde’s men for Atlético to move into first. What happened in Turin on Tuesday will obviously be the low point of the year for Los Rojiblancos, but the losses to Real Betis on Feb. 3 and Real Madrid on Feb. 9 were catastrophic results that quietly ruined their chances in La Liga.

Barça recorded just one win but scratched out five draws during that stretch. Now that the thigh injury that hobbled Lionel Messi (to varying degrees) from when he suffered it Feb. 2 against Valencia until his hat trick on Feb. 23 against Sevilla is in the rear-view mirror, Barcelona is humming again. Including the blowout of Lyon, the Catalans have scored an impressive 16 goals in their last five games.

Luis Suárez, who has recently looked anything but washed up, and Messi are as dangerous as ever right now. Against Lyon, the 32-year-old Uruguayan was as impressive as the Argentine – who had two goals and two assists – even if the stat sheet didn’t show it. Those two are playing so well that the loss of Ousmane Dembélé to injury for about a month appears unlikely to be a major issue. And if Philippe Coutinho’s goal vs. Lyon proves to be the spark he needs to get going, it’s really not going to matter how well Atlético plays the rest of the season.

Barcelona’s defense has been rock-solid all year, allowing just 26 goals in 27 league games, so now that the offense is back on track, a double – the Copa del Rey and La Liga are both Barcelona’s to lose – seems like all but a foregone conclusion.

The real question is whether this team should be thinking treble. Oddsmakers think a treble will be a challenge, dropping Barcelona to third favorite in the Champions League after Friday’s pairings were annouced. We’ll tackle that conversation in a separate piece.

Champions League Quarterfinals Match Odds and Futures

High Press 10 March 15, 2019

The Champions League Quarterfinals draw was held on Friday. The four teams universally considered the favorites drew the four respective teams with the lowest probabilities to advance. Here are Leg 1 odds and updated futures.

Champions League Quarterfinals Match Odds (Leg 1)

Home teams are listed first. Odds from FanDuel Sportsbook NJ and DraftKings Sportsbook.

Ajax +290 Draw +240 Juventus -105
Tottenham +290  Draw +260 Manchester City -110
Liverpool -240 Draw +350 Porto +700
Manchester United +260 Draw +250 Barcelona +100

No real surprises here. The oddsmakers are still undervaluing Ajax, having them as a fairly big home underdog against a Juventus team that struggled on the road in the Round of 16. The other home underdogs (Tottenham, Manchester United) are facing titans in good form (Manchester City, Barcelona), so no shocker in the pricing there.

Liverpool are the only home team favored in Leg 1, listed at -240 to Porto’s long +700 odds.

Champions League Title Odds

Now that the draw has come out, the Champions League title odds have shifted with some surprises.

Manchester City +220 Juventus +270  Barcelona +380 Liverpool +390
Manchester United +1600 Tottenham +2500 Ajax +3100 Porto +9500

Juventus leaps ahead of Barcelona as second favorite, moving fro +340 on Thursday to +270 after their pairing with Ajax was drawn. It’s interesting they saw such a leap as they’ll have to go through Manchester City (presumably) in the semis to make the finals.

Along with Juve, City saw their odds slightly move (+230 to +220) as did Liverpool (+470 to +390). Barcelona got longer (+340 to +380).

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