Major League Soccer is underrated. This is not to say that any of the shallow hype heard during American broadcasts is accurate. On-air patter such as “Boy, words just can’t describe the amount of young talent in this league” is not designed to be true or false. It’s an unprovable statement because the variable of “talent” is always relative.
But there is always likely to be more talent in any domestic league than the rest of the world gives it credit for, for the simple reason that some fine professionals will always choose convenience and comfort over money. Many ballplayers from the Far East could probably make better dough in Major League Baseball but the salary difference isn’t enough to lure them away from home. Ilya Kovalchuk probably missed his window on modern-day NHL riches, but the great skater was happy to bring electric goal-scoring to arenas in St. Petersburg and Moscow over the last few years.
It’s not as if Yankee strikers are dominating MLS stat sheets. But in theory it should be easier for American clubs to acquire talented cast-offs from English football in addition to luring some of the best homegrown players to stick around in their primes. It’s not often working out that way.
Whether it’s out of economics, happenstance, or the promise of state-side stardom for pros who would otherwise be placed in smaller roles for world-famous clubs, attackers from South America, Central America, Germany, and other stomping grounds are tearing up Major League Soccer as of 2019.
Look at Atlanta United, winners of a nip-and-tuck 2-0 result over the Portland Timbers in the 2018 MLS Cup Final. Venezuelan Josef Martínez had the most decorated year of anyone in league history, winning the Golden Boot with 35 goals while being named Most Valuable Player for the season and in the final contest. He scored the winning goal against Portland and will remain with the club in 2019.
Here’s a look at 8 of the shortest-odds contenders to win the 2019 MLS title in December. Be sure to scroll-to-bottom for my futures betting recommendations as the new season prepares to kick-off in March.
New York Red Bulls ((+500) Odds-to-Win 2019 MLS Cup at BetOnline)
The Red Bulls must solve their postseason woes following a 3-1 aggregate loss to eventual champions Atlanta United in 2018. Losing midfield powerhouse Tyler Adams – touted to become the next USMNT star – could turn out to be a monumental blow.
Yet the betting public is all-in on the Red Bulls as an eventual champion in ’19. Gamblers (and Vegas handicappers) believe that the squad’s impressive depth and goalkeeping will tide things over. Keeper Luis Robles saw a record-long string of 183 consecutive MLS starts snapped last May.
The pressure falls on midfielder Sean Davis. Although Davis has the ability to control play and has the in-step to score goal or 2 of his own, he’s not the force that Adams was.
Kaku’s transfer saga continues to fester as rumors fly that he’s trying to force a move to Club America to be closer to his family (see this preview’s intro). Manager Chris Armas simply cannot afford to lose another crucial cog with so little time left to replace him.
Why are the Red Bulls at 5-to-1 payout odds again?
Atlanta United (+600)
A far-healthier organization is a step behind on the odds board at 6-to-1.
Atlanta United FC will could it difficult to replicate the dizzying heights of 2018, but you don’t have to set records to win another championship. It’s a managerial change, not a belief that Martínez is a flash in the pan at age 25, that most likely has soccer bettors waiting to pull the trigger on the club.
With the departure of Tata Martino to the Mexican National Team, Frank de Boer steps into the skipper’s chair and must immediately deal with Almirón s departure to Newcastle United in January.
Young talent is brimming in Atlanta, and de Boer isn’t afraid to give responsibility to fresh faces. Teen midfielder Andrew Carleton could look to increase his minutes with the senior Five Stripes this summer. George Bello, a young defender who has looked excellent in youth national team duty, has been compared to Alphonso Davies of Bayern Munich.
Atlanta United’s MLS Cup win was the type of fast-paced and breathless club soccer we’ve come to expect from top teams in elite leagues around the globe. If you played the Atlanta vs Portland match over 10 times, you might get 10 different outcomes. Just look at the chances for both sides during what could have turned into a stuffy 2nd half with a club protecting a 2-0 lead.
Guzan’s save at 2:09 was a killer. But beyond the oohs-and-ahhs of the fan’s perspective, these types of final results make handicapping the MLS somewhat more of a cautious endeavor. There is no prohibitive favorite that is likely to emerge – futures wagering is about playing the numbers correctly.
LA Galaxy (+600)
Another new coach arrives in the pre-season as the LA Galaxy organization and soccer fans across America mourn the loss of ex-coach Sigi Schmidt.
Guillermo Barros Schelotto takes the reigns of a well-funded club that failed to make the playoffs in 2018 despite the arrival of global superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Uruguayan center-back Polenta will add intrigue to the backline.
Despite the loss of ex-England international Ashley Cole, Schelotto has kept hold of a nucleus the likes of Alessandrini, the dos Santos brothers and Swedish forward Ola Kamara.
New York City Football Club (+900)
NYCFC will be hoping to build on its recent success and comfort level with ex-Pep Guardiola aid Domènec Torrent signed as the club’s new skipper.
A void will need to be filled, however, with the recent transfer of David Villa.
Torrent might have already found his striker with the arrival of record-breaking Alexandru Mitrita, who arrives with a $9 million price-tag. At only 23 years of age, he has plenty of time to fill Villa’s shoes in the Bronx.
The new ace will line up alongside respected workhorses Jesus Medina, Maxi Moralez, and Keaton Parks, who was recently dubbed the Pigeons’ new captain.
Los Angeles Football Club (+1000)
Welcome to the best West Coast soccer story of last year – with all due respect to the Timbers. 2018’s new franchise took the league by storm. The maiden match in club history became a triumphant 1-0 result over the Seattle Sounders, and if any supporters thought it was a fluke, they would be educated soon enough…especially when the club beat Seattle again in April.
LAFC rode the momentum of its debut all the way to a playoff appearance…with the help of some talented footballers along the way.
Black & Gold faithful will be hoping skipper Bob Bradley can take his team one step further in 2019.
Carlos Vela returns after January rumors of Barcelona sniffing around the 29-year-old Mexican forward. Vela looks to remain the linchpin of Bradley’s attack.
The loss of experienced turf-general Benny Feilhaber to Colorado Rapids will hurt Los Angeles, but Canadian Kaye will look to solidify his place in the side, anchoring in midfield for the likes of Diego Rossi, Lee Nguyen, and Carlos Vela to work their magic at forward.
Seattle Sounders (+1000)
The Sounders had a quiet off-season after a 2018 in which the club made the playoffs with only scant minutes from Jordan Morris and Clint Dempsey. Morris went out with an ACL injury and Dempsey’s years are finally catching up to him.
Kelvin Leerdam and Jordy Delem have both received their green cards and will no longer use up international spots. Of concern for Sounders supporters are the constant rumors swirling around rock-solid defender Roman Torres. A trade has been whispered-about which would dramatically change Seattle’s look in the back. Chad Marshall is turning 35 and unable to shoulder a huge load.
Portland Timbers (+1200)
Portland owes its astoundingly successful 2018 largely to the strong organizational skills of skipper Giovanni Savarese.
But the club has been known for its fruitful youth development initiatives and that’s reflected in a current roster in which out of 27 players, 8 are 23 years old or younger and 15 of the athletes are 25 years old or younger.
A veteran core will largely remain the same with Diego Valeri, Diego Chara, and Sebastian Blanco all under contract. Vegas is simply waiting for evidence that the club can do it again in ’19.
Toronto FC (+1400)
The 2017 MLS Cup champions couldn’t repeat after a busy CONCACAF run, with the added travel and highly-competitive fixtures proving to be a burden for aging veterans on the squad.
Greg Vaney was MLS Coach of the Year in 2017 and will be looking to push his club into the Eastern playoffs again. Toronto eventually reached the Champions League final against the Mexican club Guadalajara, making 2018 anything but a downer in total.
Sebastian Giovinco departs Toronto having left the club and the MLS in a better place. But the loss leaves Jozy Altidore to pick up the goal-scoring void along with new signee Terrence Boyd.
MLS Cup 2019: Early Prediction and Best Futures Bet
I can’t understand why the New York Red Bulls have the shortest betting line. I think it’s a by-product of a few combined factors elsewhere on the futures board, such as Atlanta United’s issues and the fact that nobody thinks Portland can come back for another round in the new year.
But I’m liking Portland, and especially New York City at (+900). Mitrita could prove to be the “Richarlison” of the MLS in 2019…except with a much, much better supporting cast around him.