MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER expert Luke Beaumont (@_LukeBeaumont) analyses the runners and riders from the Eastern Conference ahead of the 2019 season, picking out his best bets for the MLS Cup.
MLS: Eastern Conference 2019 Preview
Major League Soccer makes its long-awaited return on 2nd March, and there has never been a better time to get into the league.
MLS was placed on a pedestal and shown much-deserved respect during the winter as Atlanta’s Miguel Almiron signed for Newcastle, breaking their club record fee. D.C. United’s Luciano Acosta was also part of a transfer saga as his move to Paris Saint-Germain fell through on Deadline Day.
Below you can find a snippet about each team in the Eastern Conference and how I see them fairing in 2019.
Atlanta United (6/1 Bet365)
Atlanta United were far and away the best team in Major League Soccer last season, despite finishing behind the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference. They redeemed themselves by winning MLS Cup on home turf and it was fully deserved.
The Five Stripes lost Miguel Almiron to Newcastle last month, but they already had a replacement on board as Gonzalo ‘Pity’ Martinez joined from Copa Libertadores winning River Plate.
2019 should be another strong year for Atlanta United under Frank de Boer’s stewardship, I fancy them to retain MLS Cup and I am surprised that they aren’t the favourites.
Chicago Fire (50/1 Bet365)
Chicago Fire finished second bottom in the Eastern Conference last year, which is a disappointment because they have some good players within their ranks. The Fire should have goals in them in 2019 as they have a natural goal scorer and Nemanja Nikolic and they have also acquired CJ Sapong from Philadelphia Union.
It will be the defensive areas of the pitch in which Chicago Fire will have to improve if they’d like an outside chance of reaching the playoffs.
FC Cincinnati (70/1 188BET)
FC Cincinnati are the new boys in town and will begin life as a Major League Soccer franchise this year. They will bring plenty of atmosphere to the league, but I don’t think they will be too exciting on the pitch. Darren Mattocks is a good acquisition for them, the forward signed during the 2018 MLS expansion draft.
Expect FC Cincinnati to bring something new to MLS but I can’t see them making the playoffs during their inauguration season.
Columbus Crew (35/1 188BET)
The biggest win for Columbus Crew last year came off the pitch as they won their fight against the frightening possibility of relocation. The fans were the true force behind the victory and they can now relax ahead of the 2019 season under new ownership.
Columbus enjoyed a good 2018 campaign despite the off-field issues. They still managed to reach the playoffs, and they were impressive as they edged past red-hot D.C. United in the first knockout round away from home.
Gyasi Zardes found the net 19 times last year for Columbus and they will need him to wear his scoring boots in 2019 if they are to have another good season.
D.C. United (30/1 188BET)
D.C. United were one of the standout teams last year after Wayne Rooney’s arrival revitalised the team and helped them sneak into the playoff places. If Rooney can keep his formidable partnership with Luciano Acosta going then I would fancy them to make the top six again – making that 25/1 look eye-catching.
It remains to be seen if the two forwards can hit it off again, though, as it’s difficult to see how Acosta is going to react after his January move to Paris Saint-Germain collapsed at the last moments.
Montreal Impact (50/1 Bet365)
Montreal Impact are a side who will more than likely always be hanging around the playoff line. Last season was unfortunate in the end for Remi Garde’s side as they finished just four points behind Philadelphia Union who took the sixth and final playoff spot.
Montreal are very good at home and they need to continue that trend into 2019 if they want to make the playoffs this year. The signing of Maxi Urruti from FC Dallas is an exciting one, he has been one of the better players in MLS over the last five years or so – a real good signing.
New England Revolution (80/1 Bet365)
Brad Friedel’s New England finished 8th last year and didn’t have quite enough to challenge and break into the playoff places.
The Revs have made some good moves in the post-season, two positive signings are Carles Gil and Juan Fernando Caicedo who has a great goalscoring record from his time in Colombia with Independiente Medellin.
New York City FC (9/1 Bet365)
The biggest challenge for NYCFC this season is dealing with David Villa’s exit and finding a way to replace the influence that he had on the team. Villa provided 14 goals and five assists in 2018, and NYCFC have brought in Romanian striker Alexandru Mitrita to try and replace those figures.
New York City FC are a certainty to make the playoffs, but they aren’t a team I’d fancy to go all the way.
New York Red Bulls (5/1 Bet365)
New York Red Bulls are the favourites to win MLS Cup, which is a feat they haven’t achieved before. They have been regular-season winners on a few occasions but have never gone on to win the big one.
I don’t think they will reach the heights they did last season, but when you have a player who can find the net as often as Bradley Wright-Phillips, you are always going to be in with a chance.
Orlando City ( 150/1 Bet365)
Disappointingly, Orlando City have still yet to make the post-season since their Major League Soccer introduction in 2015. The signing of former Manchester United winger, Nani, has fans excited but I still don’t quite see them as a top six side.
The Lions have some good players going forward and will have goals in Dom Dwyer. However, defensive frailties will continue to bite them in the up and coming season.
Philadelphia Union (20/1 Bet365)
Philadelphia Union sneaked the final playoff spot last season, but I think it will be much more difficult for them to achieve this time around. Teams like Toronto and Chicago shouldn’t be as bad this year, so we might have a situation where we have 7/8 genuine contenders for the playoffs.
The Union have made a couple of good additions in Marco Fabian and Sergio Santos, however, I don’t see 20/1 as an attractive price for a side who might miss out on the playoffs, in my opinion.
Toronto FC (17/1 188BET)
Toronto FC have been on a staggering fall from grace since their record-breaking title-winning season in 2017. Last season was a huge disappointment as they only manged to accumulate 36 points and ended up a total of 14 adrift from the playoffs.
The Canadian side’s post-season business hasn’t been the best. Failing to pay Sebastian Giovinco the money he deserved led to his departure to Saudi club, Al-Hilal last month. Losing ‘Seba’ will hurt them, and it showed during their embarrassing recent defeat in Panama whilst taking part in the CONCACAF Champions League.