Handicapping is a lot like soccer. It’s good to be supremely confident…but not supremely overconfident.
I was overconfident when picking Los Angeles Football Club to win – and cover – when the Black and Gold met the cross-town rival L.A. Galaxy last Friday night.
Good thing I wasn’t live-gambling on the match. My bout of hubris might have been even more dangerous after the 1st few minutes.
Carlos Vela scored on a penalty kick to give LAFC a 1-0 advantage less than 5:00 in the fixture at Tennis Center (ping-pong, they sure named a soccer venue wrong) in what seemed to portend another coup for Los Angeles’ newest sons in a season which has been full of them.
Then reality came crashing down. The Galaxy – or maybe the universe – was angry. How dare a bunch of interlopers try to supplant a storied club in their own hometown!
Galaxy defenders played exceptionally well, holding LAFC to just 5 on-target shots, making timely tackles to prevent rushes at keeper David Bingham, and helping the midfield muck-up Vela’s vaunted attack.
But host striker Zlatan Ibrahimović, a 37-year-old player whom I’d all-but-dismissed as a “flaky” and aging veteran in my handicap of the match, quickly took over the evening with an amazing hat trick. Ibrahimović was unstoppable in the 2nd half, propelling the Galaxy to a 3-2 upset victory.
Things continued to trend up for older of L.A.’s pair of Major League Soccer clubs when a squad of mostly reserves (led in-part by Alex Morgan’s husband Servando Carrasco) managed a 2-2 draw and a win on penalties against Club Tijuana of Liga MX in the Leagues Cup.
One thing I wasn’t wrong about in the L.A. vs LAFC preview, however – the Galaxy has teased its supporters often in 2019. The club has won important matches only to fall back unexpectedly. That’s why it still trails Los Angeles Football Club by 9 points in the standings despite the resounding win on Friday night in SoCal.
It’s possible – if the squad can handle the Portland Timbers this Saturday night at Providence Park.
I’m anxious to get to the handicap, but this blog isn’t strictly about my opinions – there’s no handicapping anything here except against the Las Vegas odds.
What do soccer betting sites and their clientele think of the Portland vs L.A. matchup?
Portland Timbers vs L.A. Galaxy: Comparing the Online Betting Markets
Since Bovada Sportsbook gets so much internet traffic and books more action than the other sportsbooks in our purview, it’s never a bad idea to begin by looking at the Bovada markets for any Major League Soccer (or any “major league in soccer”) fixture.
Another good reason to start with Bovada is also that the MLS odds are easier to find there. Sportsbetting.ag offers some interesting lines on North American club teams from time to time, but you’ve got to scroll all the way to the bottom of the site’s non-featured soccer league categories to get to “USA” or “United States” and finally view the MLS.
Bovada Sportsbook makes it easy by putting “Soccer” at the top of its homepage menu, and MLS in the same drop-down dialogue as the Premier League and other world-renowned leagues.
However easy this particular meeting’s Vegas odds might be to find, they’re also somewhat hard to figure out at a glance. The Galaxy has won 12 times in 2019 and is in 2nd place in the MLS table while Portland is mired in 9th place with a .500 record. Yet the Timbers are more-than-solid moneyline favorites at Bovada with a (-175) market to win in 90+ minutes on Saturday.
“Draw” is a sturdy-payoff market at (+350) or 3 and ½ to 1.
There’s not much of a difference at the other sites in our network. Portland is a (-169) and (-1) favorite at Sportsbetting.ag (L.A. is 4-to-1 on the moneyline there also) and a (-175) and (-1) favorite at MyBookie…where MLS odds are a little easier to find than at Sportsbetting.ag.
The advantage of playing at home can do a lot to shorten a host club’s gambling lines in Vegas or on the internet. But it typically won’t have that much of an effect – especially when the home team is in 9th place in the Western Conference and taking on an opponent vying for 1st place.
Why is Portland such a strong favorite?
Timbers Chop Down Opposing Attacks
Make no mistake, the Timbers are on a pretty good hot streak. Portland has not lost a match in any competition since falling to Montreal back in June. The team’s most recent loss before that was a 2-3 result against Vela and LAFC on June 1st.
It begins with goalkeeping. Steve Clark may not be known around the globe as an elite GK, but he’s been a revelation for the Portland Timbers, posting numerous clean sheets since taking over between the posts in April.
Last Sunday, Portland only possessed the ball for 40% of the match and gave up 8 on-target shots against the Seattle Sounders. Clark finally let in a goal at the 50-minute mark, but youthful Argentine striker Brian Fernández – who had already scored once in 1st half – responded almost immediately with his 6th goal in only 8 appearances this season.
— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) July 22, 2019
It turned into a winner as the Timbers cut-down all attacks the rest of the way.
Then there’s Portland’s recent 4-0 victory over the Galaxy in the U.S. Open Cup’s Round of 16.
The U.S. Open Cup is not exactly the most prestigious of soccer tournaments, comparable to the Carabao Cup in English football. But that didn’t stop Timbers manager Giovanni Savarese from putting a strong lineup on the pitch to go up against L.A.’s reserves and backup keeper. Clark played in goal, Fernández played the entire 90+ minutes, and yet Ibrahimović was nowhere to be found in the Galaxy lineup and neither was veteran GK David Bingham.
Portland is obviously a force to be reckoned with. However, that’s still no reason to make a 2nd-place opponent into a 4-to-1 wager. Perhaps a few too many gamblers (or bookmakers) found themselves glancing at the U.S. Open Cup highlights and assumed that since the Timbers had their best athletes on the field, there must have been an A-#1 lineup from L.A. opposing them.
But the last time Portland and Los Angeles played their best lineups against one another all the way back in March, the match at Dignity Health Tennis Center took a different turn. The Galaxy led 2 sets to 1, but the Timbers fought back with a winning backhand…I mean, I mean, the Galaxy won the soccer match in methodical fashion as Zlatan converted 2 penalties while a 4-2-3-1 formation held firm.
Can we glean more from the stacked-deck 4-0 thrashing from Portland in summer? Or the 2-1 victory for L.A. when the teams met at full strength, but before a new striker took the Timbers on a tear?
Portland vs L.A. – Handicapping the Best Bet on Saturday Night
There’s no question about it, the L.A. Galaxy are a team that has not reached its ceiling in 2019. The squad seems ready to break out with a winning streak at any moment – but when will it come?
Take away a pair of summer matches against San Jose in which the Galaxy were out-scored 6 goals to 1, and the club has a fine record over the last few weeks. But try as they might, it’s hard for supporters (or Vegas speculators) to forget them.
Zlatan took a yellow card in the 2nd loss to the Earthquake on July 12th, a match in which L.A. scored in the 2nd minute only to have the weaknesses in its backline exposed. Center back Daniel Steres was yanked from the fixture early as the Galaxy gave up an immense 32 shot attempts (half of them on-goal) and a trio of tallies in 90+ minutes.
L.A. could be galvanized further by the colorful and controversial Ibrahimović’s epic night against LAFC.
It seems to me that the best way to beat a hot goalkeeper like Clark is to defend patiently and wait for counters, since ball possession advantage and goals have not exactly clung in conjunction for Portland’s opponents lately anyway.
But by meeting the Black and Gold head-on with an aggressive style on Friday, the Galaxy have announced their intentions to keep pushing numbers forward no matter which MLS (or Mexican) side the team happens to be facing.
My Recommended Moneyline Pick on Saturday
L.A.’s determination to keep going full-bore in every circumstance has resulted in a lot of unfortunate goals-against in 2019. The team has not allowed its last counter-attack goal of the summer by a long shot. Portland is likely to win or at least draw in a goalkeeper’s duel and even more likely to prevail in a wide-open fixture in front of host-supporters.
But the Timbers aren’t 1-to-2 or 1-to-1 and 3/4ths likely to win on Saturday night.
As always, our job isn’t to predict the match but to handicap the best wagers against the Vegas odds. Zlatan isn’t the most consistent striker for a club with an inconsistent backline, but the Galaxy are showing so much spirit and so much scoring punch that to give them a 4-to-1 line is crazy.
At a point during the last Premiership season I recommended a “manual lay” wager or series of wagers on a club to win or draw a match – or rather on their opponents not to win. There’s no “lay” option at online sportsbooks, but you can still gamble 1 or 2 units each on the underdog to win and to draw.
Portland’s (-175) line-to-win is too short, making a combination-bet on L.A. to either prevail or tie on the scoreboard extremely solid. If you gamble a theoretical $10 on each market, it could pay off with a profit of either $20 or $15 unless the Timbers win the battle of improving clubs.
Finally, I’m also giving the L.A. (+1) line a 75% chance to either win or push ATS.