MLS expert Luke Beaumont (@_LukeBeaumont) analyses the MLS Cup Play-offs, highlighting his favourite outright fancies.
MLS Cup Play-offs | 31st October – 8th December 2018
The Major League Soccer regular season came to its conclusion on Sunday evening and Decision Day was dramatic to say the least.
Atlanta United choked and handed the New York Red Bulls the Supporters’ Shield, whilst LA Galaxy, despite being 2-0 up, failed to secure the win which would have left them in the play-off places.
Now, we are heading into the exciting part of the season – The Play-offs…
I am going to pick two teams from each conference who have value and a real chance of winning the 2018 MLS Cup in December.
New York Red Bulls (4/1 SkyBet)
The New York Red Bulls are joint favourites (4/1 SkyBet), which leaves me surprised because they should be out on their own. They have proven themselves as the best team in MLS and they also have a first round bye in the play-offs.
The recently crowned Supporters’ Shield winners are a well-drilled side and have been consistent all season, despite a managerial change at the mid-point. Chris Armas came in to replace Jesse Marsch in July and has given a great account of himself during his short time in charge.
Pipping Atlanta to the Supporters’ Shield was an impressive achievement.
The Red Bulls are incredibly strong all round. They boast the best defensive record in MLS, which is testament to Luis Robles in net and the very reliable defenders in front of him. They also have creativity with the likes of Tyler Adams and Kaku, but most importantly, they possess a natural goal scorer in Bradley Wright-Phillips.
Having the momentum of winning a trophy on the last day, it’s going to be difficult to stop the Red Bulls adding an MLS Cup to their cabinet come December.
DC United (16/1 Unibet)
Form is pretty much everything when it comes to the play-offs and DC United are one of the hottest teams in Major League Soccer right now.
Ben Olsen’s side had a poor start to the year, but their season was ignited by the move to their new stadium, Audi Field. And of course, the arrival of Wayne Rooney.
12/1 (Bet365) is a mouthwatering price given that they are one of the most in-form sides in the league and nobody wants to play them right now.
They are unbeaten since August and they have won seven of their last eight games on home soil.
DC’s play-off campaign gets underway this week as they finished FOURTH in the Eastern Conference. They will take on Columbus Crew in a knockout tie at home thanks to their higher seeding, so they’ll be hoping to carry on that impressive form at Audi Field.
Sporting Kansas City (11/1 SkyBet)
11/1 (SkyBet) for the Western Conference toppers to lift the MLS Cup looks an attractive price, as they are another team who avoid the dreaded knockout round with a bye.
Peter Vermes’ side are rightfully the joint favourites from the West to take the trophy home, alongside LAFC. They are incredibly hard to beat away from home, having only lost twice at Children’s Mercy Park all season.
Sporting KC await either FC Dallas or Portland Timbers in the conference semi-final and I’d back them to beat either over two legs. They are on a run of five games unbeaten, so they are set to take some positive form into the postseason.
Seattle Sounders (14/1 Bet365)
Seattle Sounders have been present at the last two MLS Cup finals, but it looked like they were going to have a year off this time around. That was until they went on a run of nine consecutive wins which put them back in the reckoning.
Incredibly, at the end of June, Seattle had just a 1.67% chance of reaching the play-offs. However, they set the best half-season record in MLS history, thanks to a run of 14 wins, two losses and one draw.
They didn’t just manage to storm into the play-offs, but they even snuck into the top two in the Western Conference on the last day which has given them the all-important first round bye.
Seattle deserve credit for their grit and determination, but also for the signing of Peruvian Raul Ruidiaz which has turned their season around.
14/1 (Bet365) is a big price considering they have been in the final on the last two occasions, winning one of them, and they have avoided a first round knockout tie.