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Best Bets: It’s playoff time in MLS! Upsets, betting on the MVP, and more

We're back with another week of Best Bets! This week, we’re looking ahead to the first round of the MLS playoffs, banking on an Eastern Conference upset, and much more.

4 min read
© Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Backheeled Bucks

  • Total Backheeled Bucks Wagered To Date: $600.00
  • Total Backheeled Bucks Won To Date: $775.01
  • Backheeled Bucks Net Profit: $175.01 (29% rate of return)

Soccer is hard. Soccer is complicated. Soccer is confusing and often leaves us with relatively few confident conclusions that we can make about it. That said, there’s one thing that I’m pretty darn sure of after last weekend.

You want to know what it is? Alright, I’ll tell you. I’m 100% sure that we had a better weekend than Caleb Porter did. We went three for three on our picks last weekend, almost tripping our Backheeled Bucks. Caleb Porter, on the other hand, had, uh, less luck. You win some, you lose some. And we won last weekend.

Let’s see if we can carry some of that juice into the playoffs, shall we, because it’s playoff time people. Things are about to get weird. Here are my three picks for the first round of the MLS playoffs.


Bet: Cincinnati to win (in regulation)

Amount: $10

Odds: +260

Up front, I need to make sure that we’re all on the same page here: these bets apply to the final score at the end of the regular 90 minute (plus stoppage time) period. They don’t account for extra time or penalty kicks, which we could see in the postseason after not seeing either of those things in the regular season.

So with this bet, I’m not just banking on FC Cincinnati to win. I’m betting on them to win in regulation against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday. The same idea applies to the other two bets down below.

I’m not going to lie, this is a bit of a heat-check for me after last weekend. But after reading Justin Egan’s piece yesterday, which included a beat on how much Cincinnati’s defense has improved with Matt Miazga in the fold, I’m feeling good about Cincy heading into their first ever MLS playoff game. They have a top five attack in MLS based on both goals and expected goals, according to FBref. And with Miazga involved, they’re not quite as porous defensively as they were earlier this season.

To look at the other side of this first round matchup, the New York Red Bulls are outside the top 10 in both goals and xG this year. They’ve been an excellent defensive team, but haven’t found a consistent attacking threat outside of Lewis Morgan. Plus, they’re playing the tired “no one believes in us” card. Get a better gimmick next time, yeah? (To be fair, Cincy’s social media admin played this card, too. But at least I haven’t seen Pat Noonan come out and complain about how no one believes in FC Cincinnati).

I don’t think this is going to be an easy game for Cincinnati, but I also don’t think they should be this much of an underdog. +260 is a really nice line for a team with three of the best attacking players who stepped on a field in MLS this year.

I like FC Cincinnati in this first round.


Bet: Nashville double chance (in regulation)

Amount: $10

Odds: -110

Betting on Nashville SC to get a result against an LA team worked for us last weekend, so why not go back to the well this weekend?

Nashville didn’t play well against LAFC on Decision Day, but I can’t shake the idea that they have a good recipe for postseason success. They stay compact defensively, they attack on the break, and they dominate attacking set pieces. Let’s unpack each of those three elements.

First: the defense. Per Second Spectrum, Nashville allowed the fourth smallest amount of non-penalty xG this year and registered the fewest pressures in the attacking third. They don’t get stretched and they don’t give up chances.

Second: their transition attacking. Hany Mukhtar is going to win this year’s MVP award and it’s hard to argue with that given how lethal he’s been in the open field. He makes aggressive runs into the box, keeps attacks going, and puts the ball in the back of the net.

Third: set pieces. Per Second Spectrum, Nashville are first in the league this year in goals scored from corner kicks and free kicks and second in xG from those set pieces.

To me, all of that adds up to a big fat headache for the LA Galaxy. The Galaxy are a much better team than they were earlier in the year now that Riqui Puig is running the show in midfield, but I think they’re going to have a hard time breaking through Nashville this weekend. For basically even-money, I’ll take the Fighting Gary Smiths in this one.


Bet: Montreal win, over 1.5 total goals (in regulation)

Amount: $10

Odds: +110

Montreal are good, people! There’s a reason they finished just two points behind LAFC and Philly this year. Not that I’m looking to break up the party they’ve got going up in eastern Canada, but every single MLS team with a coaching vacancy should be hitting up Wilfried Nancy’s phone over the offseason.

Nancy’s team has a clear identity (precise possession mixed with a calm, solid approach to defending) and they have real talent. Even if they’re missing a piece or two on Sunday against Orlando, they’ll be the more talented and more disciplined team.

Orlando can do some damage in knockout competitions, as they showed by winning the U.S. Open Cup earlier this year. But I’m not sold on them as a real postseason contender. They just barely snuck into the playoffs and they had the fifth worst attack in all of MLS this year, based on American Soccer Analysis’ xG model. Orlando City were an above-average defensive team in the regular season, but I think Montreal have enough juice to secure a win at home.

If Montreal win in regulation and there are at least two goals in that 90+ minute period, we’re more than doubling our Backheeled Bucks.