Here Matt Haynes takes us through his MLS betting & trading recommendations for the 2018 season
Since 2015, the top six teams in each conference qualify for the playoffs, playing in separate brackets. The first round of each conference has two play-in matches between the fourth- vs. fifth-place teams and the third- vs. sixth-, with the two higher seeds hosting. The lowest-seeded winner advances to play the conference’s top seed, and the next-lowest playing the second in the Conference Semifinals.
Atlanta United – It seems that star player Almiron who has major European clubs after him is going to be sold halfway through the season, how is this going to affect team chemistry and balance?
Now, Atlanta do have the ability to beat anyone on any day in this league but to me they look a little unbalanced already, especially as the main man in midfield Carmona headed back to Chile in the offseason, they will do well to justify odds of 7.0
Chicago Fire – This team look a little light to me and will do well to finish in a play-off spot, they seem to be blooding a lot of youth this season and with a few old experienced heads in the mix could be a team to watch out for in the coming years, this season maybe a couple of years too soon though.
Columbus Crew – This team may not even exist in a years’ time and they have also traded away their best two attackers which is a shame as they very nearly went all the way last season as huge underdogs. Its hard to see how they back that up this season given all the concern about the franchise’s future and the downgrade at the striker position.
DC United – United were awful last season but have completely overhauled their roster and for me this team is now more than capable of competing for a play-off spot. They have a new stadium and training ground and will improve no end this year. They are currently scheduled to have a very tough opening part of the season which is full of road games so if they lose a few games early season they will become potentially value backs on the match odds once back at home.
Montreal Impact – This team disappointed last season and have lost some quality players and not replaced them, I can see this team struggling badly this year.
New England Revolution – USA legend Brad Friedal is the new head coach which should motivate the players but there is a current drama involving star midfielder Nguyen, if he goes it will be a huge loss to the team but as it stands now this team are a play-off team in my opinion and need to be kept onside at around 71.
New York FC – I’m expecting NYFC to be major challengers this season for outright honours in the MLS. Despite losing key players they should have a deep enough squad to remain successful with a quality defence, attacking midfield and David Villa to knock them in. At a current price of 13.0 they look great value to make a deep run.
New York Red Bulls – This looks like a potentially decent young team on the up and they should prove very nice to watch this season, at best I see a play-off spot and we could even get a nice price about them as the season progresses, they are a young team and naturally they may need a few weeks to find their way as historically young homegrown American talent usually need to find their feet against seasoned European and South American pro’s. So, as long as they don’t get off to a horrible start they are potential back material around 51 to 76.
Orlando City – This team has built depth all over the field in the off-season signing some solid MLS veterans and they seem primed for the play-offs for the first time in franchise history but the outright market reflects this expectation and they are no value.
Philadelphia Union – This team has made no moves in the off season and looks nothing to get excited about, they could be tough to beat at home but offer nothing play-off wise for me this season, I expect them to finish outside the spots come October.
Toronto FC – This team is the greatest in MLS history end of story, they have an incredibly strong squad including the best player in the league, Sebastian Giovinco, alongside Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley. They improved their depth in the off season and could feasibly win the lot this year and that includes the CONCACAF Champions League.
Eastern Conference Projected Play-Off Teams
New York FC
New York Red Bulls
Colorado Rapids – The Rapids are a long shot to make the playoffs in the Western Conference and seem to be in transition, we’ll have to wait and see how that pans out as historically this team has struggled to score goals.
FC Dallas – Dallas are going with youth this season and look nailed on for a play-off spot after last years disappointments. Their squad is loaded with pace and the midfield looks solid. Trouble is the bookies are onto them and their a very short 16.0 in the outrights.
Houston Dynamo – This team could contend if everything falls right for them but their depth is very sparse and any injuries to key players could seriously de-rail their play-off run. They also have to improve on one away win all season last year to be taken seriously.
LA Galaxy – Galaxy were terrible defensively last season but have potentially a very good midfield & attacking unit. However, they aren’t anywhere close to the LA Galaxy of old, and I’m not at all sure how a team this bad defensively makes the play-offs.
Los Angeles FC – This is a new franchise which has brought in some decent international players, has some decent youngsters but seems to lack depth. If they gel quickly then they could make a play-off run but they are priced accordingly and offer no value at the moment.
Minnesota United – Minnesota were awful last season and although they should improve a lot of teams around them have improved as well. I see another season out of the playoffs.
Portland Timbers – The Timbers have a brutal opening schedule with a lot of east coast games on their slate but they have the core of a very useful side with one of the best midfields in the league and a solid defence. I’ll be looking at getting them onside in the outright at around 25-30 after their opening batch of games. I do expect Portland to be challenging for the Western Conference title.
Real Salt Lake – This team has quality running through it. They kept the young core of last year’s squad but added some very clever signings. They’ve got the defence to shut out any attack in the league and for me this is a team that if things go right can compete for a playoff spot, and even make a run at the Conference title. I’m a backer at the current odds of 51.0.
San Jose Earthquakes – The Earthquakes were very lucky to make the play-offs last season and, in my opinion, over achieved so I’m expecting a reversion this year and I can see them falling short.
Seattle Sounders – This team is very talented and is basically the same one that just fell short in the final against Toronto last season. Their main striker has just torn his ACL though and they could very well struggle in the first half of the season before making a run to the play-offs. The best way to play this is to wait and look to get them onside at inflated odds in the outright market if they start the season poorly, this team is too talented to not make the play-offs.
Sporting Kansas City – This is a team whose attack only scored 40 goals in 2017 and for me they have not done enough to address that. Their defence and midfield are very solid units but you don’t win matches if you can’t score. This team should make the play-offs…. if they can find a player who can hit the back of the net.
Vancouver Whitecaps – This is another team that over-performed wildly last season and strictly on the numbers look prime candidates to revert back to the mean despite signing proven MLS goal scorer Kamara.
Western Conference Projected Play-Off Teams
Real Salt Lake
Sporting Kansas City
Los Angeles FC
My positions will all take place in the MLS outright market and will look to be hedged after the main season has finished but before the play-offs start.
New York FC @ 13.0
Real Salt Lake @ 51.0
New England Revolution @ 71.0
Positions to consider taking as the season unfolds
New York Red Bulls – To be potentially backed at around 50 to 60 if they make a slow start to the season.
Portland Timbers – To be potentially backed at around odds of 25 to 30 after a tough batch of opening games.
Seattle Sounders – To be backed after a potentially poor start to the season at odds of around 20-25.