FOUR MLS play-off matches back-to-back on Sunday night and our outstanding Stateside advisor Will Dyer (@w2Dyer) is on the case, analysing each fixture and sharing his best bets.
DC United v New York Red Bulls | Sunday 20.00 | Sky Sports 5
Well I hope you enjoyed the knockout round, there were some great moments. Portland and Kansas City’s dramatic shoot out, Montreal’s first-half dismantling of Toronto, DC United’s seventh comeback win of the season and Seattle’s 3-2 victory over LA Galaxy. Drama of the highest calibre.
First up in the quarter-finals (a.k.a Conference semi-finals) is a complete mishmash for me. DC United did rally pretty well to beat New England Revolution but I don’t think I’m being bitter when I say that they could and probably should have been out of it by half-time.
New England invited pressure on in the second-half and DC did what they do best at home; come from behind to win with late goals. However, the referee waved away a clear penalty for Revs in the dying seconds and DC now face a much stiffer task.
United’s first problem is that they play just four days after the biggest game of their season. DC have conceded in 14 of their last 16 domestic games at RFK Memorial and, though they frequently manage to overcome that defensive woe, I’m not sure this game will pan out in their favour.
First legs are notoriously cagey affairs and I’ve done some research to back that up. Since the two-legged quarter-finals came into the fold in 2003 there have been 48 first legs. A whopping 36 of those have seen Under 2.5 goals (75%).
The regular season stats tell us that these two will play out a high scoring game but there is no value in backing goals here and I think we should save that for the second leg. Draws are more frequent in these first legs; 27% have ended that way since 2003 but neither of these teams have good draw stats; both drawing just six of 34 regular season games (18%).
The hosts have won just 21 of those 48 first legs which is 41% compared to 51% of games going to the hosts in this year’s regular season and, like I said, I think DC are the worst of the remaining eight teams. So we want to get with the away side here but at just 13/10 I’m not that interested.
Instead I’ll opt for the visitors to score first at 4/5 Skybet. DC have conceded the first goal in 10 of their last 12 MLS home games and I am not forgiving them for their poor autumn form yet. They are sluggish in the first-half more often than not.
NYRB are the runaway top scorers in MLS with 62 goals in the regular season and in Mike Grella, Sacha Kljestan and Lloyd Sam they have in form support act for the prolific Bradley Wright-Phillips.
Portland Timbers v Vancouver Whitecaps | Sunday 23.00 | Sky Sports 5
I don’t need any persuading to oppose goals here. Portland Timbers (joint-third) and Vancouver Whitecaps (joint-first) have some of the best defensives in the league. To add to that, Portland’s home games and Vancouver’s away games both saw just 36 goals; an average GPG (goals-per-game) of a meagre 2.18, which is tiny compared to the league average.
Portland’s experienced back four, marshalled by Liam Ridgewell and the glorious ginger-bearded Nat Borchers, have conceded just 14 goals in their last 18 home MLS games. Vancouver have scored just one goal in their last five away games in all competitions. I believe their involvement in the CONCACAF Champions League will catch up with them over these two legs.
Darlington Nagbe has returned to form for Timbers and Providence Park will be absolutely buzzing but I think they will know that a controlled performance is the safest play here. Vancouver have the best away record in Major League Soccer but they are quite weak at home and the Timbers themselves are handy on their travels so perhaps they will look to go for the jugular in the second leg instead.
Whitecaps have visited Oregon twice this season and both times the game ended 1-1. so Under 2.5 goals would have paid out. I think there is a high chance of another draw here but Vancouver rarely draw so I would suggest avoiding the Match Odds. Under 2.5 Goals is 7/10 with Boylesports.
Montreal Impact v Columbus Crew | Monday 01.00 | Sky Sports 5
The first-half performance of IMFC was possibly the best I’ve seen by a MLS side all season. Didier Drogba’s first touch and hold up play was sensational. Patrice Bernier’s calmness on the ball was unerring and Ignacio Piatti terrorised Toronto’s defence.
That 3-0 win made it six in a row for Montreal at the Stade Saputo and they’ve scored at least two in all of those victories. Crew pose a similar threat to Toronto. They are an attack-first defend-second kind of team and that’s clear in their season statistics; 58 goals scored and 53 conceded.
Columbus have the worst defensive record of the remaining eight teams by some margin. I think they’ll concede at least a couple of goals in Montreal but I can also see them causing Impact some problems at the back.
Montreal are 5/4 to win this first leg but I think a safer option is to back them to score 2 or more goals at 11/10 William Hill. Montreal have scored twice in both of their last two games against Crew at home and also won 2-1 in Columbus in June. They are the Fall’s form team.
Columbus have been pretty consistent on the road. Impact face both of the tied MLS top scorers in the space of three days but they stifled the Reds attack on Thursday night and may well hold Kei Kamara down in this one too.
Columbus are less reliant on their top scorer than Toronto though. I think they demonstrated that against DC United winning 5-0 without him. Federico Higuain and Ethan Finlay are tricky customers but I can’t get away from how good Montreal were on Thursday night.
Drogba now has 12 goals in as many games for Impact and with Montreal having the measure of the Black and Gold in the latter half of the season I have to support them again.
Seattle Sounders v FC Dallas | Monday 03.30 | Sky Sports 5
Seattle navigated their way past LA as predicted but they conceded two goals for the first time since August and LA had more shots on goal despite being awful on the road for all of 2015.
Brad Evans played left back and that exertion got to him so he possibly misses out through injury which is a blow. Osvaldo Alonso’s return is uncertain too but Marco Pappa is back which is good news for Sounders.
Deja-vu here as this match is a repeat of the exact stage last season. Seattle got through that tie on away goals. This year Dallas obviously have the advantage of being able to prepare all week for this game whereas Seattle played just four days ago.
I really like Dallas’ from an attacking perspective and I think they are underrated at 5/2 (Coral) but there are reasons to shy away from that.
FCD have a paltry W1-D2-L7 record in Seattle since 2009 which includes a 3-0 defeat there back in June; probably their worst result of the season. Seattle are now unbeaten in 10 games in all competitions and opposing them at home in a game that is likely to be tight seems a bit foolhardy.
As much as I like Dallas, I thought they were very lucky to beat San Jose last weekend. 63% of their goals this season have come at home and that’s clearly where they excel.
They won 18 games in the regular season and 13 of those victories came at the Toyota, so I think their gameplan will be to keep this tight and wait for the second leg to open up.
Nine of Dallas’ last 13 away MLS games were Both Teams To Score ‘No’ results. The stats are a bit more mixed for Seattle with 9/17 home games also going BTTS ‘No’ but in such a high-scoring division, that’s actually a pretty good ratio to support my theory of opposing goals in these first legs.
32 of the 48 first legs since 2003 saw BTTS ‘No’, which is a very strong statistic. These teams have met twice in 2015 and neither of those matches saw both sides score. Seattle’s 14 conceded at home is the second best home defensive record in Major League Soccer this season too.
It’s BTTS ‘No’ for me at a tasty even-money with Paddy Power.
DC United v New York Red Bulls – New York Red Bulls to score first (4/5 Skybet)
Portland Timbers v Vancouver Whitecaps – Under 2.5 goals (7/10 Boylesports)
Montreal Impact v Columbus Crew – Montreal Impact to score 2+ goals – (11/10 William Hill)
Seattle Sounders v FC Dallas – Both Teams To Score ‘No’ (1/1 PaddyPower)