The MLS is back this weekend and Adam Chernoff gets you set for the opening matchday with two bets.
Those that follow me here on Matchbook will believe that this is a homer article, but I can assure you both my bets for the opening weekend being on teams in the Pacific Northwest – including a wager on my home city club, Vancouver, are coincidence and a circumstance of inefficient market pricing.
I will kick things off with Seattle
There is very little not to love about the Sounders team entering 2019. For the first time (ever?), the team enters a season with their full roster core in-tact. The last three seasons have relied on key summer signings, but this year the talent is healthy and in place. Raul Ruidiaz, Jordan Morris, Nicolas Lodeiro and Victor Rodriguez make up an attacking front four that can strike fear in any club. The preferred 4-2-3-1 lineup can quickly become a two-forward set, but the strength of the team is certainly at the back on defence.
Their opponent on Saturday is Cincinnati FC, the 24th team to join the MLS as an expansion team. Ownership has gone out and put together a roster that has the potential to be competitive, but ultimately there are serious concerns about the attacking power of the side. They have speed and size in attack with Nigerian Fanendo Adi and Belgian Lamah leading the way up front, but beyond that, they lack any depth or punch. There is going to be a ton of pressure early in the season on Kendall Watson and Greg Garza on the back line to keep Cincinnati in matches.
The trip to Seattle is never easy for any club, but it will be exceedingly tricky for Cincinnati making their league debut. Stylistically, this is a problematic spot for the visitors. A lack of continuity and confidence will lead manager Alan Koch to concede possession to Seattle. The Sounders are likely to press with a high backline not having to respect the counter or build up from a punchless Cincinnati attack.
Seattle has the creativity up front to break down the best defences in the league and it would take a monumental effort from Cincinnati to hold them off the board for 90 minutes. The history of slow starts is holding this price up a little bit, and there is certainly value backing Seattle -0.75.
Second is Vancouver
The Whitecaps did something no team in MLS history has done. During the offseason, they got rid of an astonishing 20 players from their roster. The most important pickup was not any player, but rather, their new coach. Marc Dos Santos is a fantastic soccer mind and was mentored by the likes of Jose Mourinho and Jose Oliveria during his time in Portugal. His professional attitude and single defensive midfielder formation has been well received by the city and the players.
The one aspect of Dos Santos that has shone through in the preseason is the sneaky press that he plays. Everything that he does is extremely thorough and tactical. His press is not an all-out swarm of opponents, but it is done in a way that is very situationally dependent and tricky to play against. Dos Santos has gone far and wide to bring in 14 players from 12 countries since taking over in November and the common attribute among all is high football IQ and very specific position specialists.
The matchup against Minnesota is very favourable for Vancouver. The Loons were the worst team away from home in 2018 and conceded a jaw-dropping 71 goals in 34 matches overall. The horrific defence did get a bit better with the addition of Ike Opara at centreback, but one of the lowest valued defensive midfield units dependent on aging Osvaldo Alonso is going to allow teams to build up an attack with ease.
All of this put together, and it becomes quite clear that the new system, a number of different cultural backgrounds and new leadership should take time to come together. I think the doubt that things are ready to click in the opening week is the reason that this price has stayed north of 2.00. Vancouver has a big matchup advantage in the final third and the creativity Dos Santos has installed in this club should show through. The home side is worth a wager at the price.
- Seattle Sounders -0.75 (1.76). Risking 1.15x.
- Vancouver Whitecaps (2.15). Risking 0.65x
Host Ali Maxwell is joined by Adrian Clarke and Mark O’Haire to look ahead to ‘Derby Weekend’ in the Premier League while Mark O’Haire takes us to Spain for Real Betis against Getafe, and to Reims vs Amiens in Ligue 1.