The MLS regular season is almost over and Montreal are in the best shape to lift the MLS Cup
Checking out the top sportsbook sites (see our online sportsbook reviews here) we can see that bookmakers and bettors are favoring LAFC, the leaders of the Western Conference and Philadelphia Union, who are leading the way in the East. Both are priced at +300 with their closest challengers, Montreal and Austin available at +1000. Dallas, NYCFC, Nashville and NY Red Bulls are also in the mix.
|MLS Cup Winner|
|NY Red Bulls||+1800||+1600||+1600|
In MLS, the team that ends the regular season with the best record earns the Supporters’ Shield, but the competition differs from many soccer tournaments as the main prize is won via a playoff system, with the winner of these playoffs claiming the coveted MLS Cup.
It is worth noting that Supporters’ Shield winners have a poor record when it comes to winning the MLS Cup, which you need to bear in mind when betting on the MLS playoffs. The records show that the team that recorded the strongest regular season record has only lifted the MLS Cup seven times in 26 years. Last year, the New England Revolution won the Supporters’ Shield by 12 points over every other team, but they were eliminated in the conference semifinals.
For the MLS playoffs, the top seven teams in each Conference qualify for what is a straight knockout format. While the other twelve teams compete in the First Round, the two Conference winners receive byes into the Conference semifinals.
All of the playoff fixtures are one-game events. In the MLS Cup Final home advantage belongs to the team with the better overall regular season points record, but for the rest of the playoffs, it is given to the team that finished higher in the regular season.
While there are still two or three games left in the regular season for each MLS side, some teams are already guaranteed a spot in the playoffs.
LAFC, Austin, and FC Dallas have guaranteed their playoff spots in the West, while Philadelphia Union, NY Red Bulls, and Montreal have already qualified in the East. LAFC has already clinched first place in the West and will receive a bye into the semifinals, and in the East, Philadelphia only needs a point from their next two games to clinch first place in the Conference.
NYCFC has also virtually guaranteed a playoff spot in the East, but five more teams are competing for the final three spots, with Atlanta and Columbus chasing Orlando, Cincinnati, and Miami in the current playoff standings. In the West, the playoff picture is less clear as eight teams are vying for four playoff spots currently held by Nashville, Portland, Minnesota, and LA Galaxy.
Philadelphia will almost certainly win the Eastern Conference and receive a first-round bye, but even allowing for that advantage, their odds are too low given the history of teams with the best regular-season records.
The NY Red Bulls have had a good season, but recent losses to both NYCFC and Philadelphia have cast doubt on their playoff credentials. Orlando is also in the mix, but are not a team to rely on and although NYCFC have acquired some momentum after winning the Hudson River Derby, their mid-season downturn has prompted concerns about their fragility.
Montreal have flown under the radar but could yet be the best option in the East. Since July, they have only suffered one defeat: a narrow loss to the Red Bulls. After placing tenth in the East last season, they have been one of the highest scoring teams in MLS this year as they continue to improve under head coach Wilfried Nancy.
LAFC has consistently led the way in the Western Conference but they have only won two of their last seven and, like Philadelphia, seem to be overvalued in the betting, so it can pay to look elsewhere.
Although Portland can never be entirely written off, given their strong playoff record it is looking likely that they will be playing most of their playoff games on the road, which is bad news for a team that has only won three regular season games outside Portland.
Of the other Western contenders Dallas is in good shape as the regular season draws to a close, but Austin and Nashville look like the best options. Nashville is one of the form teams in MLS, having gone six games undefeated, including victories over Dallas and Austin, while Austin upset LAFC 4-1 in August, and are the kind of dangerous free-scoring squad that can pose a threat in the playoffs.
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