Philadelphia Union were dominant in the East throughout the MLS regular season and you can bet on them to reach the Conference Final.
Looking at the top sportsbook sites (see our online sportsbook reviews here) it is clear that bettors are favoring Philadelphia ahead of this contest. The Eastern Conference regular season winners are rated as -150 to win this game, while Cincinnati are the outsiders at +400.
Cincinnati performed well to defeat the NY Red Bulls, who had a solid defense, in their First-Round matchup, but they will face a very different opponent in the semifinals when they take on the most complete team in MLS.
Philadelphia had the top offensive and defensive records at the end of the regular season, and they went into the postseason in top form, having scored 30 goals and let up just three in their last seven home games in all competitions.
Cincinnati can match Philadelphia for creativity, but they look too vulnerable defensively to keep out the Philadelphia offense. Although the visitors will have their share of scoring opportunities, I believe that the Union will ultimately prevail due to their superior firepower.
Even though LAFC is the obvious favorite in this clash, they have already shown that they are not unstoppable. The fact that eight of the Black and Gold’s nine losses thus far this year have come after they conceded the game’s first goal suggests an element of fragility.
LA Galaxy’s track record of success on the road will also give them confidence. This year saw them match their performance during the regular season of 2012, when they reached six wins on the road and making the short journey to the Banc of California Stadium will hold no fears for them.
With Julian Araujo, Chicharito, and Riqui Puig they have the skill and imagination necessary to put their opponents on the back foot and Galaxy constitute a serious attacking danger.
However, it would be a mistake to undervalue the quality that LAFC has, especially now that one of the game’s biggest stars, Gareth Bale, has joined the team. The fact that this game is a derby helps to increase the tension before what should be an exciting semifinal, and a tie in regular time seems to be the best wager.
The regular season standings may not always translate to playoff outcomes, but it is still a good barometer of a team’s general skill level, with most postseason surprises being caused by a failure to handle the added pressure through lack of experience.
Given that they have won their last four games, many bettors will want to back NYCFC in this encounter, but that would mean ignoring the fact that Montreal ended 10 points ahead of NYCFC.
The New Yorkers’ potential advantage in this scenario may be the relative mediocrity of Montreal’s home record. During the regular season, they lost five of their nine games at home. If the regular season standings had just taken into account home performance, Montreal would have come in fourth.
Unfortunately for NYCFC, if away performance had been used to decide the regular season standings, they would have finished fifth in the East. Given their superiority as a team and home-field advantage, Montreal is the clear favorite to win this game.
Dallas is making its fourth appearance in the playoffs in five years, but facing Austin in the semifinals, is a tough test, given their opponents’ dramatic improvement. Austin scored 65 goals during the regular season, making them the second-highest scorers in the West behind LAFC. That represents a remarkable change after finishing as the lowest regular-season scorers in MLS last year.
However, it is worth noting that Dallas was able to match them twice during the regular season, both at home and away, and they will be confident that they can do the same again. They will also take heart from the fact that Austin’s free-scoring strategy began to lose its potency near the close of the regular season, as they managed just one goal in each of their final three games.
When the local derby aspect is taken into consideration, it is easy to see this game being a tense and scrappy encounter. Since both teams’ First-Round matches ended in penalties, I think it would be wise to wager on the draw in regular time here.
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