Mexican “Liga MX” club soccer is far superior to Major League Soccer in the United States. This fact has been demonstrated time and again in the CONCACAF Champions League, in which American teams tend to do very well until running up against a tiger (or sometimes “Tigres”) from below the southern border in a late stage of the tournament.
Considering that the Mexico National Team consists of many of the finest athletes from the nation’s domestic league plus a few standouts from Europe, you’d think it would be even worse for the United States Men’s National Team whenever the 2017 Gold Cup champions bump up against El Tricolor.
But it doesn’t exactly work that way. Not enough sports fans around the globe recognize that the hierarchy of pro leagues tends to be a matter of depth, not top talent. The top KHL players can skate with the best NHL players – Finland proved that by winning the Ice Hockey World Championship in 2019. The top Dutch club footballers can play with the finest athletes from the English Premier League – Ajax showed that by nearly prevailing in the UEFA Champions League this spring.
Can the MLS All-Stars compete on a level pitch with the best pros plying their trade in Mexico? Definitely…at least enough to put the results of any such match-up in doubt prior to kickoff.
That’s only part of the story headed into the 2019 Gold Cup final.
Yes, the Stars & Stripes will need its domestic talent to shine against the best of Liga MX. At the same time, however, it’s not unlikely that the gold medals will go to the side for which burgeoning European club stars are at the top of their games.
USA vs Mexico: Betting Odds at 3 Major Sportsbooks
Bovada Sportsbook’s lines on Sunday’s final at Soldier Field bring up a curious trend in online betting.
We think of upstart sportsbooks as needing attention from gamblers and offering “reduced juice” odds to help draw more clients away from the “big daddy” Bovada (or Westgate for in-person sports betting). The moneylines just aren’t bearing that out – perhaps because the bookmaker feels that the site can afford it, Bovada is offering longer payoff-lines on average for like-ML markets on big matches.
For instance, the Dutch women are a 4-to-1 or 5-to-1 moneyline underdog at betting books all over the internet for Sunday’s USA vs Netherlands World Cup final in France. Yet at Bovada, where the line on the dominant distaff Stars & Stripes squad to prevail is only slightly different from the majority, the upstarts from Holland are a whopping (+700) wager to win without penalties.
Just look at Bovada’s odds for the Gold Cup final. The book is offering more than a 2-to-1 payoff on a United States win at (+240). That’s a lot better payout on underdog-to-prevail than you’ll find at MyBookie (where the Americans are (+219)) or especially at BetOnline where the Yanks’ moneyline is shorter than 2-to-1.
I’m not ready to give up looking for good numbers at the other soccer betting sites on the web, though. BetOnline’s goal spread and Over/Under totals are both Asian Handicaps, which makes me want to continue the quest at MyBookie for some reason.
MyBookie’s Over market is appealing with a (-112) line on 3 goals or more scored collectively in the match. I’m also loving the site’s ATS line on Mexico (- ½) and (+117) payoff. The book’s moneyline for El Tricolor is (+114) – essentially the same market at the same price in this case.
The Bovada Sportsbook moneyline on a hot American side – which may in fact be developing into the strongest United States men’s team seen on a pitch in modern-day – is tempting with a 2.4-to-1 payoff promised on an upset victory.
But MyBookie’s O/U market comes with the safety-valve of potentially winning easily no matter which rival grabs the gold by Sunday night at 10 PM.
Recapping the Semifinals
Much like the USWNT, the United States Men’s National Team has begun to play a more solid, secure style of football compared to its past incarnations. It helps when you’ve got attackers who can produce scoring chances and on-target shots by themselves and not with the help of numbers forward.
To make another allusion to ice hockey, think of how the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings of yore were talented-but-flaky clubs until Scotty Bowman came along and instilled disciplined defensive systems and checking responsibilities. Mario Lemieux and Sergei Fedorov still had plenty of chances to score and often converted on them. The difference was that the goaltenders had easier rows to hoe.
Jill Ellis’ controversial move (is everything about the USWNT a controversy?) to switch to a standard 4-3-3 formation has won over the skeptics in France. (Well, all except one “Solo” act anyway.) Perhaps it’s surprising to some supporters that Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe are flashing the deadliest attacking form of their entire careers despite the “conservative” tactics.
Sometimes, in matches where neither side is going to allow an opponent to pass out from the back and go tic-tac-toe all the way to the box, defending in midfield and creating turnovers near the center line is the best way to produce space for an offense.
But until recently, the USMNT could defend and produce counter-chances all it wanted – there were simply no elite forwards to put the chances away.
The United States still plays with a striker from the MLS – Jose Altidore – and features no Grade-A overseas club material among the lineup of forwards.
No matter – an exceptional young midfielder is doing more than improve the squad’s defending and passing in the middle of the formation. He’s making his teammates better, causing a pedestrian batch of USA attackers to look as graceful as Les Bleus when beating up on CONCACAF keepers.
Prior to the USA vs Jamaica semifinal, I wrote that the hysterics over the United States’ awful, terrible, hideous clean-sheet victory over Curaçao in the quarters was ridiculous, and that gamblers should wager “against the media” as opposed to against the public. The Americans were more than stout enough to hold-off a flagging Jamaica attack for 90+ minutes while Christian Pulisic was likely to take over yet another match with the football in his possession.
Winner, winner, Reggae Boyz for dinner.
Now it’s on to facing the Mexicans…whose attack is not flagging.
El Tri Scoring Just Enough Goals to Win…Consistently
One of the issues I had with the media’s negativity toward the Yanks’ quarterfinal win was that the United States allowed 0 goals while scoring a goal, which is ultimately the best kind of way to win international soccer matches. Mexico’s attack is confident in much the same way. It’s not always how many goals you score but when you score them, and the favorites have the ability to find the net in clutch moments.
Not that El Tri didn’t have episodes of its own on the way to a Windy City final. An excellent 3-1 victory over Canada in the round-robin was followed by a match against little Martinique in which Mexico might have relaxed too much in the 2nd half. Wolverhampton hero Raúl Jiménez scored to put the favorites ahead in the 56th minute…but the scoring hadn’t concluded for either side in a 3-2 victory.
A quarterfinal would only ratchet-up the anxiety when the match with Costa Rica drew 1-1 and went to penalties, where the Mexicans prevailed by the skin of a tortilla.
Finally, the Mexican team dispatched Haiti 1-0 on a Jiménez penalty kick in the 93rd minute.
The low-scoring results are part of why the O/U is hovering just above 2 total goals for Soldier Field. Another factor is a missing puzzle piece – Chucky Lozano is injured and unlikely to play.
Gamblers are thinking that keeper Guillermo Ochoa and up-and-coming Yankee counterpart Zack Steffen will keep all but 2 or less goals out of the net in the Gold Cup final – that’s why the payoff line is slightly shorter for “Under” bets at MyBookie at (-112).
I’ve got other ideas.
Prediction and Best Wager for Sunday’s Gold Cup Final
Ochoa is a fabulous goalkeeper, but he’s not invulnerable and has never faced a United States lineup quite like this one.
Yankee supporters are used to blowing-off the hype about “Landon Donovan!” and other names from the past who only ever looked like superstars against domestic competition.
A new era is dawning. Pulisic – and soon Sebastian Soto – bring “quality” as the English like to say. Quality of an elite variety that CONCACAF defenders will go a lifetime without shutting down.
As for Steffen? It’s not that I’m not confident in the youthful keeper’s abilities in a low-scoring GK duel. But he’s gotten a lot of help from his backs in this Gold Cup. When Steffen sat out a match against Panama, the unheralded Sean Johnson of New York City Football Club posted a clean sheet of his own.
That’s due to the MLS rank-and-file having an easy time against the Panamanians. On Sunday, the superior Mexican attack will pierce the USA backline once again…leaving Pulisic and Altidore with no choice but to fly across Soldier Field and fight back at full speed.
Finally, remember that while rain and storms are currently plaguing the Midwest, the prospect of hard rain prior-to and even during a soccer match can actually speed up play as the football skids and hydroplanes over the turf.
The result of a fast-paced showdown should be a 2-1 victory for Mexico or perhaps even a 3-2 upset for the United States.
Only 1 of those markets wins for the Yanks on the moneyline – but they both win with the Over.