At this stage of the MLS season, we can confidently place a group of five teams at the top of the Eastern Conference hierarchy:
Other playoff contenders — notably the Montreal Impact, Toronto FC, Orlando City SC and the New England Revolution — will hang around, but the existing group of five will be tough to challenge.
To handicap the race, let’s take a look at each of the East elites, including what they do well and poorly and how they’ve played in recent weeks.
DCU sit second in the Eastern Conference, barely a nick ahead of a threatening group of three — Atlanta, NYRB, and NYCFC. D.C. are in danger are falling further behind.
Even as they stick around in the upper tier in the conference, it grows harder and harder to proclaim them as legitimate contenders. They’ve won just twice in their last 10 games.
Luciano Acosta is suspended currently for a red card, and has generally taken a step back from last season’s ascent to stardom. They haven’t scored at the rate most expected despite Wayne Rooney’s continued excellence.
By the time Acosta is transferred elsewhere (which seems like an inevitability, whether this window or next), D.C. will be severely missing attacking creativity. In fact, they’ve been missing attacking creativity even with Acosta in the lineup. D.C. rank in the lower tiers of shots per game and xG per game. They lack difference-makers — players who can find the ball and pick out passes that others don’t see.
Acosta has been a difference-maker in the past, but this season his productivity has waned. DCU don’t have other players who can both fill in when Acosta’s production dips and, most importantly, help boost the Argentine. They need a secondary creator.
Lucas Rodriguez is a dribbler, but he’s not a passer or an adept connector. Paul Arriola is a workhorse. The deeper midfielders have yet to find ways to impact further up the field the way players like Cristian Roldan in Seattle have.
D.C. have to surround Rodriguez and Arriola with players who can move the ball and keep D.C.’s attack from faltering. Rodriguez, while electric on the ball, has an xGChain/96 figure of 0.96, lower than that of Gyasi Zardes. Arriola is a high-caliber player, but similarly lacks the ability to find difference-making passes.
Above all else, D.C. need a shake-up. They’ve clearly stagnated. We’ll see what this transfer window brings.
NYC lost twice in MLS in the last couple of weeks, to the Portland Timbers and the Red Bulls. In between those, they sandwiched a penalty-kick defeat in the US Open Cup quarterfinals against Orlando City.
Pigeons fans need not worry too much about these recent setbacks. The Red Bulls loss had a fluky feel to it — NYRB scored their goals on a penalty-kick and a bizarre, controversial referee mismanagement situation. NYC had dominated much of the New York Derby. They had their chances against Portland, losing 1-0 despite dominating the xG battle. Penalty shootouts are basically coin tosses.
In general, City look like one of the league’s better teams, and hold games in hand on most of their Eastern Conference rivals. Their attack is deep. Younger options have emerged in midfield alongside Alex Ring; most notably, Keaton Parks has become an important starter, and James Sands will continue to have a role. Maxi Moralez is a legitimate MVP candidate.
Dome Torrent has his team spreading opponents out, sending the fullbacks forward, and thriving off of diagonal switches in the attacking third. It is an effective formula, but they have to be careful to prevent the well running dry.
Have Atlanta adjusted to Frank de Boer’s system? I’m inclined to say that they have, to a certain extent. They’ve worked their way back up to third in the Eastern Conference, and they have started to improve in midfield. Justin Meram has shown flashes of pre-Orlando City Justin Meram.
But when they win, defending and Josef Martinez make the difference.
Ezequiel Barco and Hector Villalba are still injured. With Brek Shea out for the year and Mikey Amrbose battling thigh problems, they don’t have a left back. Pity Martinez has not yet transformed into a world-beating superstar, and it’s hard to see that happening any time soon. They have a ceiling now that they didn’t have in the past.
The five-game win streak they ripped off at the beginning of May appears to have been a product of a weak schedule; they took four of a possible 15 points in the five games prior to Wednesday’s 5-0 demolition of 10-man Houston.
De Boer should roll with the 3-5-2-ish formation he tested against the Dynamo. Julian Gressel is best used as a wingback, and a three-at-the-back is the only way De Boer can fit the center back trio of Miles Robinson, Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez and Michael Parkhurst together. Pity’s defensive apathy would be most effectively sheltered in a second striker role.
Atlanta will keep trying to find the best version of themselves.
New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls, contrary to previous NYRB seasons, look set up to succeed in the playoffs instead of the regular season. They took some time to coalesce this year — a process that makes sense, considering the departure of Tyler Adams, injuries on the backline, Champions League congestion, and Kaku’s going off the rails at various times — and now they are motoring along at a reasonable pace.
It’s hard to see them going on a run and challenging for first in the conference, barring some big signing of a winger. Reigning Defender of the Year Aaron Long has been the subject of transfer rumors this summer. If they sell, they make things very difficult for themselves this season.
But aside from Adams’s departure and Bradley Wright-Phillips’s decline to super-sub status, not too much is different about this Red Bulls team from previous iterations. They play a similar style and press the ball well. In the waning BWP years (and first Brian White year!), they’ll want to make a serious run in October.
The current top team, Philly have been better and more consistent than every team in the East except for (arguably) NYCFC. They have the look of a bona fide elite, though the recent injury of Jamiro Monteiro has stunted their recent form.
They may be a bit overrated in some areas. Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie haven’t had seasons to write home about, though Jack Elliott has been very good at center back. Andre Blake is perpetually the most overrated keeper in the league. The signing of journeyman American Andrew Wooten at striker is unlikely to be a serious difference-maker.
In general, though, the Union are legit. Ilsinho is a weapon off the bench that other teams don’t have. Kai Wagner has been one of the league’s best left backs this season. The diamond formation has worked wonders, and continues to produce quality possession. They will face a battle to finish at the top of the conference.
With the MLS season just past its halfway point, now is as good a time as ever to do some awards. We’ll do the real awards and mix in plenty of other player and team prizes.
MVP: Carlos Vela, LAFC
This one is as consensus a selection as you’re going to get. Carlos Vela has a ridiculous 19 goals and 12 assists in 19 games, on pace for the best season in MLS history. He is the best player on the best team. He does so much beyond scoring that he has left little debate as to who the best player in the league is.
Finalists: Maxi Moralez (NYCFC), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy)
Moralez has 6g, 11a as NYCFC’s fulcrum. The Light Blues have two losses all season and are tied for the Eastern Conference lead on points-per-game.
Zlatan is second in the league in goals and dictates everything that makes the Galaxy successful. He also dictates everything that holds them back — he does little defensive work and has an outwardly poor attitude.
Defender of the Year: Walker Zimmerman, LAFC
It’s hard not to give this award to Walker Zimmerman, who has clearly been the best defender in the league. His performance earned him a regular starting job in the USMNT’s Gold Cup backline.
Finalists: Miles Robinson (Atlanta), Larrys Mabiala (Portland)
Coach of the Year: Jim Curtain, Philadelphia
Philly has risen to first-place in the Eastern Conference with a defined style of play, emphasizing the strengths of its players and playing quality possession soccer. Jim Curtain’s trust of guys like Brenden Aaronson has spurred the Union’s surge.
Finalists: Bob Bradley (LAFC), Matias Almeyda (San Jose)
Goalkeeper of the Year: Stefan Ffrei, Seattle Sounders
I had a hard time coming up with a clear top contender for this one. Stefan Frei has continued to be solid in Seattle, so I’ll give it to him.
Finalists: Sean Johnson (NYCFC), Maxime Crepeau (Vancouver Whitecaps)
Newcomer of the Year: Alejandro Pozuelo, Toronto FC
Alejandro Pozuelo has easily been TFC’s best player, with seven goals and eight assists so far in his debut season.
It would be a very good bet, though, that Portland forward Brian Fernandez will have this award on lock by the end of the year. The Timbers promise to win a good portion of their home game slate in the second half of the season, and Fernandez has been scoring at a goal-per-game pace.
Finalists: Fernandez, Kacper Przybylko (Philadelphia)
Most Improved Player: Latif Blessing, LAFC
Latif Blessing has been a Best XI-level performer in midfield for LA. He has gone from a super-utility player to one of the league’s best ball-moving and ground-covering midfielders in the league. Fellow LA midfielder Eduard Atuesta would’ve been a reasonable pick here as well.
Honorable mentions: Jackson Yueill (San Jose), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas), Atuesta, Lamine Sane (Orlando), Memo Rodriguez (Houston)
Best team: LAFC
Honorable mention: Philadelphia Union
Worst team: FC Cincinnati
Cincy have lost 13 of their 19 games and are the running favorite for the Wooden Spoon. They went to Minnesota and got annihilated 7-1 on June 29. As they continue to search for a coach, their roster is in a “tear it all down” stage.
Honorable mention: Columbus Crew
With Colorado and New England starting to figure themselves out, it’s been an especially bad year for Ohio teams.
Biggest surprise: The rise of the Union
Watching Philly transition from an interesting young team to a clear MLS elite has been a joy. They’ve done so through a well-crafted style of play, the growth of several players, and smart signings (Kai Wagner, Kacper Przybylko, Jamiro Monteiro, Sergio Santos). We await the rise of Marco Fabian.
Honorable mentions: LAFC’s complete dominance, San Jose’s turnaround, Orlando’s new foundation
Biggest disappointment: Columbus’s plummet
The Crew started the season competently and then tumbled harshly to the surface, pushed off the ledge by a rash of injuries (Milton Valenzuela, Federico Higuain, Harrison Afful) and static coaching. As much as Caleb Porter wanted to run it all back, it just wouldn’t work. Big changes are on the horizon in Columbus.
Honorable mentions: Houston’s road stagnation, Toronto’s slow first half
Team that should improve: Portland Timbers
This is the easiest answer: Portland have a few games in hand on most Western Conference teams and will play the vast majority of their remaining matches at home. Sitting ninth in the west now, the Timbers should rise at least a few spots by the end of the year.
Honorable mentions: New York Red Bulls, Sporting KC
Team that might regress: Montreal Impact
Montreal are fourth in the east now, but feel the heat of NYCFC on their back. NYCFC have four games in hand and are just one point behind the Impact. The Red Bulls and possibly Toronto FC (with Omar Gonzalez and one or two TAM attackers arriving) could overtake the Impact as well and toss them out of the playoff race.
Updated: June 10th, 2019
Despite a recent resurgence, reigning champs Atlanta United have fallen from pre-season favorites of +500 to +900. Last year’s Supporters’ Shield winner for best regular-season record, New York Red Bulls, dropped even further, going from +550 to +1600.
LAFC, who started the year at +700, are no prohibitive favorites at +200. They’re followed by Zlatan-led LA Galaxy (+750), the aforementioned ATL UTD, and NYCFC (+900). Eastern conference table-toppers Philadelphia Union have climbed from a pre-season +3300 to +1600.
The biggest risers from pre-season are San Jose. They’ve climbed from the cellar (+25000) to a respectable +6000.
(Odds as of June 10th, 2019)
|LAFC +200||LA Galaxy – +750||Atlanta United +900||NYCFC +900|
|DC United +1400||New York Red Bulls +1600||Seattle Sounders +1600||Philadelphia Union +1600|
|Montreal Impact +1600||Columbus Crew +2400||Houston Dynamo +2400||FC Dallas +3100|
|Sporting KC +3100||Toronto FC +3100||Portland Timbers +3400||Minnesota United +5000|
|Orlando City +5000||San Jose Earthquakes +6000||Chicago Fire +9500||Real Salt Lake +9500|
|Vancouver Whitecaps +11000||Colorado Rapids +12000||New England Revolution +12000||FC Cincinnati +20000|
- Harrison Hamm joins to discuss the unexpected ascension of Philadelphia Union (0:30) to the top of the Eastern Conference.
- Then Harrison recaps the first MLS transfer period (16:00).
- Peter Nolan joins (31:20) to discuss the New England Bruce Arena hire.
- He also looks at the rise of NYCFC and New York Red Bulls (38:00), including their game against Atlanta United this Sunday.
MLS Matchday 12 odds are released and with loads of quality games this week. Our two marquee match-ups for the week are: Philadelphia vs Seattle Sounders and New York Red Bulls vs Atlanta United
MLS Matchweek 12 Game Odds
All listed odds from May 15 on FanDuel Sportsbook NJ.
|Wednesday, May 15|
|Toronto FC -150||Draw +310||D.C. United +380|
|Houston Dynamo -150||Draw +320||Portland Timbers +350|
|Vancouver Whitecaps +220||Draw +250||Atlanta United +120|
|Seattle Sounders -220||Draw +360||Orlando City +550|
|Thursday, May 16||Draw +260||Southampton +195|
|Los Angeles FC -310||Draw +440||FC Dallas +750|
|Saturday, May 18||Liverpool -310|
|Montreal Impact -135||Draw +280||New England +350|
|Real Salt Lake +130||Draw +270||Toronto FC +185|
|San Jose Earthquakes +105||Draw +280||Chicago Fire +220|
|Philadelphia -120||Draw +280||Seattle Sounders +300|
|Minnesota United +115||Draw +250||Columbus +230|
|Houston Dynamo -130||Draw +290||D.C. United +320|
|Kansas City -250||Draw +390||Vancouver Whitecaps +600|
|Sunday, May 19|
|Orlando City -135||Draw +280||FC Cincinnati +370|
|New York Red Bulls +140||Draw +250||Atlanta United +185|
|FC Dallas +190||Draw +260||Los Angeles FC +130|
|LA Galaxy -270||Draw +440||Colorado +650|
Visit FanDuel Sportsbook NJ as games near for updated odds and, for NJ residents, to place your wagers.
Odds and Ends
- In our first marquee match of the week, Philadelphia Union (-120) take on Seattle Sounders (+300). Not only does Philadelphia have the advantage of playing at home, but they are also sitting 1st in the Eastern Conference and have a 5 game unbeaten streak. Seattle Sounders are not in a bad position either – sitting 3rd in the Western Conference. However, they have only won 1 out of 4 away games and have not beat Philly since 2016.
- In our other marquee match up, New York Red Bulls (+140) take on Atlanta United (+185). Last week, we had high hopes for NYRB who seemed to be getting back in their groove with two back-to-back wins…until Montreal brought them back to reality beating them 2-1 in New York. They did, however, redeem themselves against Dallas this past Saturday. Meanwhile, Atlanta has been on a roll with four back to back wins. Atlanta does, however, have a difficult week ahead of them as they travel all the way to Vancouver on Wednesday after just playing this past Sunday and then heading to New York on Sunday. While Atlanta is doing that, Red Bulls get to recover and prepare the whole week for Sunday’s match up. Regardless, this will be a good indicator as to which team’s improved form is for real.
When Ernst Tanner took over as Philadelphia Union sporting director this winter, there was reasonable concern over new changes he might implement. The Union were coming off a season in which they showed real promise, with a squadron of young players and a playoff berth. Given the history of this franchise, taking any steps to change a move in the right direction comes with a certain apprehension.
But even the most optimistic of Union fans (a rare breed, mind you) could not have anticipated the success their team has enjoyed to start this season. Philly is verging on elite, winning four of its past five games and sitting atop of the Eastern Conference, ahead of D.C. United on goal differential. They play with confidence and skill.
Tanner’s original vision of a pressing, 4-4-2 diamond team hasn’t quite come to fruition. The Union want to play on the ball, first and foremost, an ideology that most effectively capitalizes on their personnel. Jim Curtain cultivated a willingness to play with possession last year, as Philly figured itself out and nurtured an identity.
Creating a model for success
They will continue to develop and coalesce. The process, so to speak, is still in the early stages. But seeing the Union successfully combine its own younger talent and newer transfer pieces is a beacon of hope for MLS teams that want to take this kind of approach. (Looking at you, RSL.) It is possible to win while processing in this league.
Philly have certainly been fun to watch. A willingness to play actual good soccer drives their success — they move with and without the ball, they play on the attack, and they pass and combine to create their chances. The diamond formation they play (that part of Tanner’s vision they stuck with) can be fairly complicated to use with a system like the Union’s, but Philly accomplish it without muddling things too much.
How Philly is doing it
Last weekend against Toronto FC is a perfect example. The Union won 2-1, a quality victory against a likely playoff team, and proved versatile enough to successfully implement a game-plan counter to Toronto’s strengths.
Philly watched Toronto’s midweek loss in Atlanta and took notes on the Five Stripes’ approach. Atlanta United had focused entirely on surrounding TFC’s midfield and cutting off central outlets, sacrificing space on the wings in order to restrict Toronto’s outlets in the middle.
TFC, hampered by a rested midweek lineup, struggled to respond on that Wednesday. They tried to play through wingback Ashtone Morgan in possession as a response to Atlanta’s central focus, but Morgan lacks the ability on the ball to play such an important role.
Seeing this, the Union implemented similar principles. Their diamond formation is perfect for what they intended to do — invert midfield shuttlers Alejandro Bedoya and Jamiro Monteiro even more than usual and restrict TFC’s overloaded midfield, forcing the Reds to hit difficult switches and play through the flanks more than they wished.
It was a risk, but a calculated one; the changes of direction and ball movement required to break down the Union are tough to accomplish. With Jozy Altidore starting on the bench, TFC couldn’t do it.
Figuring out how to complicate things for opposing teams is part of Philly’s evolution. Once they accomplish that, they’re able to play the way they want to play. They can pass with a purpose, swimming around the area occupied by the forwards (particularly Kacper Przybylko) and dribbling right at the spine of the defense. Watching for more dual-creator minutes, with both Marco Fabian and Hype Train American youngster Brenden Aaronson on the field, will be fascinating.
Everything was not seamless in the Toronto game — Alejandro Pozuelo was as active as ever, and perhaps the result would have been different had it not been for TFC’s defensive ineptitude — but nothing is designed to be seamless. The Union will continue to put themselves together at the back, where they play plenty of younger studs.
With quality moves in the transfer market — Przybylko, Fabian, Monteiro, left back Kai Wagner — and a willingness to develop their own talent, Philly have assembled a deep depth chart. They play with a real identity. It looks like we can safely say that the Union will be sticking around.
With April ending, the contrast between MLS’s Eastern and Western Conferences is as apparent as it’s been in a while. LAFC leads an upper tier of teams out West that looks much more solidified than a rocky East, which has not produced a clear favorite.
Today we’ll look at what happened in April in MLS, starting with the Colorado Rapids, who became the first team to fire their manager this year.
What now for the Rapids?
It seems like we’re asking this question every year. Colorado have been a disaster through nine games, picking up just 0.22 points per game and shipping goals — they’ve conceded a monstrous 24 in nine games, on pace for 90 over the entire season. Yet again, the roster lacks talent, the backline has no one capable of stopping the ball, and the coaching staff failed to do anything close to maximizing the group.
Anthony Hudson, perhaps exasperated with his job, eviscerated his players after another loss on the weekend to Atlanta United. He said there was a “massive gap in class” between his players and the rest of the league.
“The only way it’s going to be a quick fix is if you wave a magic wand at it and throw lots of money at it. Clearly we’re not doing that.”
He’s not wrong that the Rapids lack talent. He would go on to point out the Rapids disastrous DP situation — in which they are paying a huge contract to an average, aging goalkeeper who spends a lot of his time commentating Champions League games miles from Colorado — and how Colorado are paying players who aren’t with the team, like the sunk cost of Shkelzen Gashi, once seen as a franchise player.
But Hudson’s comments primarily served to excuse his poor job managing this team. He tried to get them to play with the ball and on the front foot, but his pet 4-4-2 diamond formation never coalesced, and the shape did little to help the backline. It’s possible to make up for subpar personnel as a manager. Hudson couldn’t do it.
Now, the Rapids have to scour the market and make a real, aggressive signing. It can’t be a 31-year-old European or a goalkeeper.
Columbus need something else
The Crew, who at one point sat at the top of the Eastern Conference, have lost four straight games, the worst ongoing stretch for any team outside of Commerce City. In those games, they’ve scored just one goal.
It’s not a secret that Columbus desperately needs a DP winger. Justin Meram fell off a cliff last year in Orlando and hasn’t climbed out. Robinho is fine, nothing more. Pedro Santos has actually looked a bit better this year, but his decision-making in consequential areas remains pretty terrible. Federico Higuain, now 34, is declining.
The Crew defend well and have a manager who knows what he’s doing. They would be definite contenders with a real piece in attack.
It’s getting harder to doubt the LA Galaxy
Galaxy have won seven of their nine games this season, including six of their last seven. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is obviously the focal point. He’s scoring in most of their games and looks, uh, motivated — judging by his belligerence toward RSL center-back Nedum Onuoha last Sunday — which is probably a good sign, as long as he doesn’t get suspended.
It’s reasonable to look at the Galaxy and not see a world-beating, wound-together team. Romain Alessandrini is out until September. Relying on Rolf Feltscher (who did not have a great game against RSL) to whip crosses to Zlatan is not a wonderful bet. Their game-plan is to get the ball to Zlatan, period.
That is, evidently, not a terrible game-plan. Guillermo Barros Schelotto seems to recognize the process he’s looking at here, and he’s trusting younger players like Uriel Antuna and Diedie Traore (more Traore at left back, please!). They don’t fall over themselves every time they try to defend, which means they’re winning games now.
Philadelphia might quietly be the best team in the Eastern Conference
I write this the day after the Union beat a hapless FC Cincinnati midweek to go top of the Eastern Conference. Philly have figured out how to effectively use their new 4-4-2 diamond formation, playing high up the field and pinning opponents deep with central ball movement and dribbly wingers. There is finally attacking depth. With Brenden Aaronson and Marco Fabian they have to players who can competently play at the top of the diamond. Both Aaronson and Fabian on the field means dual creators.
Since a loss-loss-draw start to the season, Philly have won five of seven games and taken 16 of a possible 21 points. Their options in attack are impressively versatile considering the nature of the formation; in addition to Aaronson and Fabian, they have thrown Fafa Picault, Cory Burke, Jamiro Monteiro, David Accam, Ilsinho and Kacper Przybylko out there for significant attacking minutes. The Union have not had this in the past.
Somebody has to win the East, and Philadelphia has as good a shot as anyone as of now.
MLS Matchday 6 lines are out.
The marquee match-up is easily Eastern leaders DC United against Western leaders LAFC. That’s required viewing if you’re a MLS fan.
MLS Matchweek 6 Game Odds
All listed odds from April 03 on FanDuel Sportsbook NJ.
|Friday, April 05|
|Vancouver Whitecaps +170||Draw +260||LA Galaxy+145|
|Saturday, April 06|
|NYCFC -140||Draw +310||Montreal Impact +340|
|Toronto FC -180||Draw +350||Chicago Fire +430|
|DC United +130||Draw +270||LAFC +190|
|New York Red Bulls -175||Draw +330||Minnesota United +450|
|Orlando City -130||Draw +300||Colorado Rapids +310|
|Philadelphia Union -110||Draw +260||FC Dallas +290|
|Columbus Crew -180||Draw +320||New England +480|
|San Jose +175||Draw +260||Portland Timbers +135|
|Seattle Sounders -230||Draw +360||Real Salt Lake +600|
|Sunday, April 07|
|FC Cincinnati +125||Draw +250||Sporting KC +210|
Odds and Ends
- So, yeah, we said it looks like oddsmakers have adjusted. Yet, the New York Red Bulls are heavy favorites against Minnesota United despite ‘Sota having a better goal differential (by 1, but still). How can this be? In part, the Red Bulls have been unlucky. Their xGF is less than their actual tally. Minnesota, on the other hand, have been lucky. Golden opportunity for the Red Bulls to regress to the mean and earn a W.
- Bottom-dwelling NYCFC, albeit at home, find themselves heavy favorites against mid-table Montreal. How can this be? Again, look at their goal differential. Both are -4 after four games. Montreal in particular is a sieve on defense, conceding 11 goals. This could be a high-scoring affair. Look at high tally goal props on this one.
- Looking for some value underdogs? Sporting KC at +210, a superior team to a still surprisingly solid FC Cincinnati, and FC Dallas at +290 against Philadelphia Union are both worth a longer look.
- A value favorite is Orlando City at home. At only -130 against a middling Colorado team, those are some short odds for a clearly superior team.
With the international break upon us, the MLS has a light matchweek of fixtures. Early contenders like New York Red Bulls, LAFC, and the Columbus Crew at least give this scaled back schedule some headliners.
MLS Matchweek 4 Game Odds
All listed odds from March 20 on FanDuel NJ Sportsbook.
|FC Dallas -170||Draw +310||Colorado +460|
|Philadelphia Union +165||Draw +240||Columbus Crew +160|
|New York Red Bulls -310||Draw +440||Orlando City +750|
|LAFC -170||Draw +310||Real Salt Lake +440|
|New England Revolution -105||Draw +280||FC Cincinnati +250|
Odds and Ends
- NYRB are by far the heaviest favorite this week against a not-great-but-not-that-bad Orlando City. NYRB have a game in hand and if they paste Orlando by 4, would move into an early tie with DC United for top of the table.
- Columbus Crew is an ever-so-slight road favorite against a Philadelphia Union team that just tied Atlanta United. Any points here would move the Crew top of table.
- Should New England Revolution really be an odds-on home favorite? They play a mid-table FC Cincinnati team who also tied ATLUTD on the road. The +280 draw or +250 on Cincinnati outright my have some value.
The 2019 MLS season got underway last week. We learned some things, some things stayed the same.
The New York Red Bulls played their B team to save legs for the CONCACAF Champions League; NYCFC stumbled to a 2-2 draw; Atlanta United looked poor with Frank de Boer, losing 2-0 to a might-be-a-contender DC United; and Zlatan did Zlatan things (read 5 more things learned during Matchweek 1 here).
How does 2019 MLS Matchweek 2 look? Let’s examine the lines and some things to watch.
2019 MLS Matchweek 2 Game Odds
All listed odds from FanDuel NJ Sportsbook.
|Chicago Fire -130||Draw +290||Orlando City +320|
|New England Revolution +135||Draw +250||Columbus Crew +190|
|FC Dallas -145||Draw +320||LA Galaxy +340|
|Houston Dynamo +105||Draw +260||Montreal Impact +230|
|Real Salt Lake -150||Draw +310||Vancouver Whitecaps +380|
|San Jose Earthquakes +135||Draw +250||Minnesota United +190|
|Seattle Sounders -210||Draw +360||Colorado +500|
|NYCFC -125||Draw +280||DC United +320|
|Sporting KC -135||Draw +300||Philadelphia Union +330|
|Atlanta United -240||Draw +390||Cincinnati +550|
|LAFC -140||Draw +300||Portland Timbers +340|
MLS Matchweek 2 Odds and Ins
Week 1 surprisingly saw only three odds on favorites. Matchweek 2 doubles that total to six. Some notes:
- NYCFC finds themselves at -125 (so bet $125 to win $100) at home against a potentially strong DC United (+320, so bet $100 to win $320) squad. With Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta picking up right where they left off from last year, there may be some value there with DCU. It’ll be interesting to see if NYCFC’s Alexandru Mitrita builds on a promising debut in front of the home crowd.
- Maybe it’s more of a hunch, but we think LA Galaxy is going to have a strong, playoff-caliber year. Priced at +340, even on the road against FC Dallas, are longer odds than they may deserve. Plus, you know, Zlatan.
- Oddly, we may know a lot about Atlanta United (this week’s biggest favorite at -240) after this weekend’s match against expansion FC Cincinatti (biggest dog at +550). Another poor de Boer showing and the #DeBoerOut movement will grow exponentially. Perhaps giving the team some run back in Tata Martino’s successful 3-5-2 system (instead of the 3-4-3 that’s definitely not working) will snap United out of its early funk. If de Boer has learned anything from his previous two wildly unsuccessful stops at Inter and Palace, it might be to not stubbornly stick with something that’s not working–especially when you know something will work with the personnel you have.
Zlatan did Zlatan things again, and the MLS and LA Galaxy are better off for it.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, our pick for MLS Golden Boot winner and MVP this year, got the LA Galaxy off to the right start today, heading in the 2-1 game winner in the 80th minute against the Chicago Fire.
We’ll deeper dive into the MLS action come Monday, but other highlights from Saturday include:
- FC Cincinatti lose their opener to the Seattle Sounders 3-1
- Michael Bradley nets a brace (!!) as Toronto FC beats Philadelphia Union 3-1
- NYCFC draw Orlando City (!!) 2-2
- And the New York Red Bulls a 1-1 draw against a Columbus Crew team not skipping a beat despite the loss of Gregg Berhalter
The biggest question in the MLS Eastern Conference this season is whether anyone can challenge Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls for the top two playoff spots. Right now, I wouldn’t put money on it.
TFC sold Sebastian Giovinco, marking a new era for the team that fell so far last season. This is a contract season for Jozy Altidore, and one has to wonder if this is his last go in Canada. New GM Ali Curtis brought in Laurent Ciman to anchor the central defense and Terrence Boyd to likely be the backup forward. Rumors abound as to who their third DP will be. It’s an important season for TFC, and they still have the talent and infrastructure to win a lot of games.
Keeping up last year’s second-half Wayne Rooney magic could be a difficult task for DCU. But they kept Luciano Acosta (though one has to wonder if he is fully motivated after nearly being transferred to PSG) and they brought in Boca Juniors right back Leonardo Jara on loan.
Ernst Tanner, brought in this off-season as Sporting Director, will have Philly playing a 4-4-2 diamond formation and pressing, big changes after they kept the ball and played a 4-2-3-1 in a resurgent 2018. The Union’s ability to contend depends upon their ability to execute Tanner’s ethos.
I’m inclined to believe the Fire are more likely to finish last than first. They finished 10th last year, after all, and unless Grant Lillard emerges at center back, they haven’t helped their leaky defense. But a midfield three of Dax McCarty, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Djordje Mihailovic could feast, if Veljko Paunovic lets it.
Caleb Porter is in charge. It will be odd watching the Crew managed by anyone other than new USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter. But Porter will be pragmatic, and he has capable pieces across the roster. Left back Milton Valenzuela’s torn ACL hurts pretty badly, though, and they still won’t have scoring from the wing until Justin Meram snaps out of his funk or Pedro Santos figures it out. I wouldn’t bet on the latter.
Maximizing what could be Ignacio Piatti’s final MLS season is Montreal’s most important task — they will have a hard time replacing arguably MLS’s best winger when it comes to it. It will be interesting to see whether Remi Garde maintains counter-attacking tactics, or if he emphasizes more pressing with Maxi Urruti leading the line as one of the league’s top defensive forwards.
New England Revolution
The Revs couldn’t figure out how to do anything more than press last season, so once teams solved them, New England started losing games and never stopped. There is a lot of uncertainty with how Brad Friedel will put together his attack with new transfers Carlos Gil and Juan Fernando Caicedo in the fold. Their biggest weakness could still be passing out of midfield, as well as central defense.
Orlando City SC
One would have a difficult time arguing that Orlando upgraded their roster after last year’s tire fire of a season, especially considering the transfer of Yoshi Yotun to Cruz Azul. But there are a number of younger Homegrowns and USL transfers on the roster, and they jettisoned the entire defensive core. If James O’Connor can put the pieces together, OCSC could at least do some good things.
The newest expansion club spent most of their time buying defenders and defensive midfielders. Their numerous overpays in trades (notably spending nearly $600,000 in value on Nick Hagglund, a brutal blunder from the front office) does not inspire confidence that FCC signed any of the right players. They could prove people wrong, but I doubt it — Cincy are most likely going to be pretty terrible this year.