After a largely successful showing at the FIFA World Cup, fans of football in America are on a bit of a high which should continue throughout the new Major League Soccer season which begins on Saturday evening.
With a new monster TV deal, standout players and a new playoff format, the first MLS Cup title defence of Los Angeles FC promises to be a particularly special campaign, one of the most eagerly anticipated ones yet.
2022 – Los Angeles FC
2021 – New York City FC
2020 – Columbus Crew
2019 – Seattle Sounders
2018 – Atlanta United
2017 – Toronto FC
2016 – Seattle Sounders
2015 – Portland Timbers
2014 – LA Galaxy
2013 – Sporting Kansas City
As ever with MLS another team enters the league this season which makes for 29 teams in full. 15 of those teams are in the Eastern Conference while 14 will be in the Western Conference. Each team plays 34 matches in the regular season with Decision Day coming on October 21. It is in the playoffs where the big change has happened. The top seven in each Conference once again automatically qualify for the postseason while the eighth and ninth team in each play a knockout match to complete the bracket. The first round of the playoffs is a best of three series with teams finishing first to fourth being at home in the first and third matches and the teams fifth and below at home in the second game. The teams who get two wins go through to the Conference semi-finals where they, the Conference finals and the MLS Cup Final are all one-leg knockout matches. MLS Cup Final takes place on December 9. The highest ranked team in the regular season is at home in all knockout matches.
Los Angeles FC won a wild MLS Cup Final last season and they are 11/2 to keep hold of the title, something that hasn’t been done since LA Galaxy retained it in 2012. History is against LAFC, who won’t have Gareth Bale to call upon this season, while Carlos Vela doesn’t feel like the force of old either. There are some other big names who have left in the close season too in the likes of Brian Rodriguez, Cristian Arango, Latif Blessing and Cristian Tello. They have brought players in but they are mostly on the defensive side of the ball, although Aaron Long could be a standout signing when we look back on the season. I don’t see LAFC not making the playoffs but it is hard to see them going all the way unless Vela can get back to his very best.
Philadelphia Union were seconds away from winning MLS Cup last season after one of the best campaigns put together in the Eastern Conference. They were the regular season top scorers and conceded the fewest goals but couldn’t quite get the job done in the final. If anything, the Union look stronger this season. They have added Andres Perea, Joaquin Torres and Damion Lowe to their ranks and made the switch for Julian Carranza a permanent one. Sergio Santos and Paxten Aaronsen have left but Union do look stronger. The one thing which puts me off backing them at 8/1 is that they will be involved in a Champions League campaign in the first half of the season and that tournament often impacts MLS form. That aside, they could go very well.
Best of the Rest
The third favourites to win the title this season are the 2021 champions New York City FC. They followed a number of teams to fail to retain the title last term and now go up against it because some huge players have departed Yankee Stadium since the end of last season including Heber, Sean Johnson, Aaron Tinnerholm and Maxi Moralez, all key men in the title success of 2021. Mitja Ilenic and Tony Alfaro are among the replacements but this looks a much weaker New York City FC side and they are not for me at 12/1.
LA Galaxy are next in the betting at 14/1 but you would surely be betting on history rather than the present at that price. Galaxy couldn’t go all the way last season and I’m not convinced they are a good deal better this term. It might be that in Riqui Puig they have the best player in MLS this season but so much was invested in Douglas Costa and that move totally flopped while promising defender Julian Araujo got his move to Barcelona. There is a lot on the shoulders of Puig this season and while he is good enough to lead Galaxy to good things, I don’t think the overall cast around him will be good enough.
Nashville SC are 18/1 to win the competition this season. They flattened out a bit last year even though Hany Mukhtar led the scoring charts and played to an MVP level. Shaq Moore is a good signing to replace Alastair Johnston who never really got replaced and if there is a positive about Nashville it is that there hasn’t been a huge turnover in personnel between last season and this one. The big question is whether Mukhtar can dominate again and if he can’t do they have others to step up? I think the Tennessee outfit are a little short to me.
Seattle Sounders are the only team in the betting shorter than 25/1 for MLS Cup. They didn’t even reach the postseason last year but we can probably excuse them that because they won the Champions League, which was an amazing achievement. Seattle certainly look no weaker than last season and having Joao Paulo back might even make them better so unless their Champions League title defence occupies them once again, I don’t see the Sounders not making the playoffs this time around and we know never to write them off when knockout football starts.
Three teams are shorter than 30/1 in the betting and the first of those come in the form of Atlanta United, who would need a marked improvement on last season if they are to get anywhere near challenging for a second MLS Cup title. Injuries didn’t help Atlanta but in truth they have looked like they have been a side regressing since Miguel Almiron left and now that Josef Martinez has left as well you wonder where their improvement will come. Not many MLS teams have a current World Cup winner in their ranks which in Thiago Almada, Atlanta do but even he doesn’t inspire me into backing them.
New York Red Bulls almost quietly finished in the top four in the Eastern Conference last season. They are a team who are intent on marginal increases and have a good manager in Gerhard Struber. There is a lot of excitement around the addition of Dante Vanzeir and if he is that elusive goalscorer they have lacked since the days of Bradley Wright-Phillips in his pomp then the Red Bulls could do something this season, particularly if Lewis Morgan maintains his MVP level form. I wouldn’t rule the Red Bulls out but the Eastern Conference looks tough this season.
FC Dallas are the other team in this price bracket. It is hard to believe that a team that finished third in the Western Conference in the regular season a year ago are so far down the betting market this time around, especially when they might have the two best young talents in the league in Jesus Ferreira and Alan Velasco. Sebastian Lletjet is a good pick up at this level so if Dallas can overcome the loss of Matt Hedges from the dressing room they could easily run hot at the right time for a tilt at the title.
OPEN AN ACCOUNT WITH 888SPORT AND BET £10 TO GET £30 IN FREE BETS PLUS A £10 CASINO BONUS! PERFECT OFFER TO USE ON THE MLS! CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW TO JOIN. USE CODE 30F. NEW ACCOUNTS ONLY. 18+ T&Cs apply (See image for significant terms). Gamble Aware.
The New Boys
There is one new team to MLS in 2023 and that is St Louis City. They have been placed in the Western Conference which I don’t actually think is a positive because that side looks much the stronger Conference to me. New teams don’t have a great record in MLS and Charlotte were the latest team to fail to make the postseason on debut last term. St Louis have made some appealing additions ahead of their first season in the league with Roman Burki potentially a candidate for the best keeper in the league while Klauss will be hoping to bring Christmas early to this part of America. There is nothing to suggest St Louis won’t be competitive on debut but a playoff run might be beyond them.
Two teams who missed out on the playoffs last season look obvious candidates for a big year this time around. In the Eastern Conference that team is the former winners Columbus Crew, who will show natural improvement under Wilfried Nancy, the man who completely turned the fortunes of CF Montreal around last season. His front footed, entertaining style of play will suit Lucas Zelarayan down to the ground and in Cucho Hernandez the Crew have a leading light up top while I have a feeling that Christian Ramirez might be a sleeper for a good signing. One or two notable players have left since last season in Artur and Pedro Santos but in Aidan Morris and Darlington Nagbe, Columbus have a wonderful central midfield and if Nancy can get the likes of Luis Diaz and Kevin Molino fit and firing this could be a big season for Columbus Crew.
Over in the Western Conference the obvious candidates for improvement are Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders and it is the former I’ll take over the latter, one because the latter will be defending their Champions League crown and also Portland are a bigger price. When you look back at last season, only two sides lost fewer matches than Portland in the regular season but no team drew more than them so if they can turn a number of those draws into wins they are automatically going to be a better side. Evander has been signed to do just that and he could be the catalyst for a big Portland campaign. This is a team who are no stranger to a deep postseason run and if they can improve enough to make the top four, which is perfectly possible should they find a centre-back to replace Bill Tuiloma, then this could be another big year for the Oregon based side at an acceptable price.
A couple of firms have a market up for the top goalscorer in the league although only Bet365 are offering each way terms so I’ll take a couple of players with them. Cucho Hernandez (Juan Hernandez in the Bet365 listing) looks like an ideal candidate in a much more offensive looking Columbus Crew team this season. He has the likes of Lucas Zelarayan and Luis Diaz providing him with chances but the mercurial Colombian is capable of producing his own chances as well. He came into the league on fire last season and while his form tailed off, it coincided with the closing down of the Crew season. I expect them to be much more competitive this term and would be surprised if Hernandez isn’t threatening the top of the goal charts before it is done.
Those who know me will know I’m not the biggest fan of Gyasi Zardes but I think he could be a perfect fit at Austin FC who have a number of creative players but if they lack anything it is that player to run in behind and one who can poach within and around the six yard box. Balls were regularly going in the box for Austin FC last season and while Sebastian Driussi was able to convert a number of them, his strengths aren’t box movement. That is a strength of Zardes and while he isn’t the best finisher in the world, he could be the recipient of a number of chances this term and at 50/1 I’ll pay to see if he can deliver on enough of them.
Unibet have gone up with a market for the MVP this season and two prices fly out at me, although it is a market to touch with caution because if the Lionel Messi to Inter Miami rumours are true then all bets will be off. The first of those is Lucas Zelarayan, who remains the best player in MLS on his day in my eyes. If Columbus Crew go as well as I think they will this season then he is sure to be in the MVP conversation come the end of the campaign because he can score the highlight reel goal but his class on the ball and his chance creation are so high. He will have a similar impact on the Crew that Djordje Mihailovic had on CF Montreal last season and at 33/1 he’s overpriced to be crowned the top dog in the league.
At an even bigger price I’ll have a dabble on a man who looks like a real special talent who could take this league by storm in LA Galaxy playmaker Riqui Puig. Puig is actually a former teammate of Lionel Messi at Barcelona and immediately looked quality on arrival in California last season. He played 10 matches last season with three goals and a couple of assists in a team who just couldn’t find any consistency. I’m not sure LA Galaxy will be a great deal better this season but that might be no bad thing because it will allow the Spanish ace the chance to look even better. He will need to post numbers at a slightly better rate than he did last season but having had a few months to acclimatise to the new league I think he could be very special this year. He is a ridiculous price at 100/1.
Back Columbus Crew to win MLS 2023 (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 29.00 with Sky Bet (1/2 1-2)
Back Portland Timbers to win MLS 2023 (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 34.00 with BetVictor (1/2 1-2)
Back them here:
Back C.Hernandez Top Goalscorer (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 26.00 with Bet365 (1/4 1-3)
Back G.Zardes Top Goalscorer (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 51.00 with Bet365 (1/4 1-3)
Back L.Zelarayan MVP Winner for a 1/10 stake at 34.00 with Unibet
Back R.Puig MVP Winner for a 1/10 stake at 101.00 with Unibet
Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2023