If there was ever a year when CONCACAF Champions League futures odds would be exciting to handicap – as opposed to the banal chore of comparing rival Mexican clubs – it’s the Year of Our Lord 2021. MLS teams from the USA and Canada have demonstrated over the last 3 cycles that they’re not just showing up for the Champions League to lose in late rounds. (Or early rounds.)
Toronto FC nearly broke a 12-year streak of Mexican dominance in 2018, matching Guadalajara in aggregate goals across a 2-legged final and only losing to Las Chivas on penalty kicks. Sporting Kansas City was embarrassed 10-2 by Monterrey in the 2019 semifinals, but 2020’s truncated and postponed CONCACAF Champions League party was crashed by Los Angeles Football Club, which upset Club América of Liga MX in the semifinals before losing to UANL 2-1 in the last match.
But as of a week prior to the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16, there are no championship “futures” odds for the event available at any major sportsbook visible on the internet.
It’s true that there are a lot of massive competitions taking place right now, not just in Europe but all around the world, and it would be understandable if some bookmakers – busy worrying about the millions of dollars in potential betting handles from each cycle of Premiership and UEFA Champions League football – forgot about little old North America and our diddy-bump soccer calendar. However, even the offshore sportsbook MyBookie is offering individual match odds on the upcoming CONCACAF Champions League fixtures, illustrating that Las Vegas is well aware that the event is taking place. It’s merely the futures odds that are MIA.
Could it be that bookmakers are perplexed by the changing landscape of CONCACAF? That in lieu of bothering with a small, flaky betting handle that pales in comparison to Manchester City vs Liverpool to begin with, domestic sportsbooks are simply bypassing the market at this time? It could be that Mexico and other North American countries are getting hit with COVID-19 hotspots just as the United States and Canada begin to pull out of the pandemic. (It’s been forensically shown that the media only reports bad COVID-19 news, making it hard to know exactly what’s going on across borders.) Futures odds are a science that involves the number of matches a club must win to lift the trophy, not just form or strength of schedule. Mexican or Central American clubs forfeiting at any juncture would throw a crimp in those numbers and allow mispriced betting slips by the bushel.
The likely case is that sports bookmakers will see CONCACAF Champions League matches coming up on TIVO, and after dishing out a few expletives, hurriedly post-up championship odds on the 16 eligible clubs that they’d whiffed on amidst a constant crush of EPL and UEFA headlines. In any case, WagerBop cannot wait until Tuesday to post a preview, so we’ll work with what we’ve got and issue predictions on 8 opening Round of 16 legs.
CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 Fixtures, Odds, and Predictions
C.D. Marathón vs Portland Timbers
Portland is the most recent US-Canadian tournament champion, having won the cathartic MLS is Back event in 2020. Still, owner Merritt Paulson’s prediction that the Portland Timbers will win Major League Soccer’s postseason crown by autumn ’21 may be a tad too optimistic, considering Timbers have not reached so much as an MLS playoff semifinal or a US Open Cup final since winning the league title in 2015.
Diego Valeri remains the Portland club’s centerpiece, both from a goal-scoring POV and as the leader of a quality midfield. Marathón is a championship contender and has qualified for several CONCACAF Champions League stages over the years, but hasn’t won a domestic match in Honduras since February 24th. Somehow – maybe because cocky owners often wind up embarrassed later on – MyBookie has installed El Monstruo Verde as (+146) favorites to out-score Portland in Tuesday’s opening leg.
Pick: Portland Timbers (+161)
Alajuelense vs Atlanta United
MyBookie is a Costa Rican sportsbook, so it’s always interesting to see how the oddsmakers at MyBookie handicap their home sides. Whether it’s an attempt to ward-off bias or a 100% honest line, Alajuelense is drawing bets as an underdog at (+186) compared to Atlanta United’s (+131) and a Draw moneyline of (+238).
Atlanta United has qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League in 3 straight seasons, and though the club has taken its share of criticism for “playing itself out” in the spring competition, it’s actually good news for Atlanta-to-win gamblers that Five Stripes takes international events as seriously as any playoff above the border. But we can’t discount the nerves at play on such challenging trips to Central America, especially during a pandemic, and especially when MLS clubs and other Round of 16 favorites have every impetus to feel satisfied with a 2-2 draw in the opening leg (more on that in the next preview).
Arcahaie FC vs Cruz Azul
You may notice that more CONCACAF Champions League underdogs are hosting Round of 16 opening legs than favorites are. CONCACAF Champions League fixtures that last 2 matches, like UEFA ties in the overseas Champions League Round of 16, are subject to the “away goals rule” which certifies the club with more away goals in the home-and-home series (or “tie”) as the winner of the round. The idea of the away goals rule is to prevent teams from playing for draws when visiting for a first leg. But it also makes away goals more valuable than goals scored as a host, meaning that an opening-leg scoreboard level at 1-1 or 2-2 benefits the visiting team, who can then play for a “victorious draw” at home.
Cruz Azul’s path through the Round of 16 may not need to be that careful, intricate, or schemed-out. Arcahaie FC of Haiti is a 15-to-1 long shot to out-score the Liga MX visitors in Tuesday’s opener, while Cruz Azul is handicapped at an evil (-666) at MyBookie. There’s no point wagering on a 1-to-7 moneyline, but we’ll keep a lookout for MyBookie’s (hopefully) soon-to-be-added spread and goal-total markets on the kickoff.
Deportivo Saprissa vs Philadelphia Union
Philadelphia debuts in the CONCACAF Champions League against a worthy Costa Rican side in Deportivo Saprissa. This time, MyBookie is giving its homeland the edge with a (-129) favorites’ line on El Monstruo Morado and (+266) on Philadelphia.
Saprissa sports a very well-organized squad with all homegrown talent except for 1 footballer, Trinidad and Tobago national team defender Aubrey David. The club currently placed 3rd in Costa Rica’s domestic league table, and some prognosticators believe that a brand-new MLS representative in CONCACAF will be easily out-shined by the midseason form of a mysterious opponent.
Don’t be so sure. Of all the underdog lines on Round of 16 openers, Philadelphia’s could be the most appealing. The club has improved steadily over the last 5 years of spring and summer campaigns, and returns Sérgio Santos and Kacper Przybyłko, 2 forwards who could probably outplay most of the USMNT’s forward lines at this point, in 2021. Reports out of Philly are that the team’s preseason form is top quality. Don’t be overwhelmed by the “timing” aspect either. MLS clubs almost always deal with weird timing in CONCACAF Champions League rounds, and it didn’t stop the Cinderella bids of ’18 and ’20.
Pick: Philadelphia Union
Club León vs Toronto FC
Forget what we said about host-underdogs. Club León is another CONCACAF Champions League favorite hosting an MLS side that MyBookie doesn’t expect much from in Wednesday’s opening leg. Toronto FC is a long (+363) moneyline bet to take an aggregate lead home from Mexico.
Not that León is having a great domestic campaign, currently placed 9th out of 18 Liga MX teams with a 4-2-6 record. But the “Wild Beast” has been playing a lot better football since a mid-season slump that lasted until 3 weeks ago.
If Philadelphia is the best underdog bet, Club León is the safest Round of 16 pick among the favorites to win. The talented, versatile Fernando Navarro has a point to prove after not being called to play for El Tricolor, and Toronto FC could draw too much betting action based on memories of 2018, making León’s moneyline less thin closer to kickoff.
Pick: Club León (-153)
CD Olimpia vs Club América
CD Olimpia is among the stronger Honduran clubs in the sport, leading its division of Liga National with a 6-2-1 record so far in 2021. Still, it’s strange to see Club América handicapped as only a (+125) favorite on the 3-way moneyline at MyBookie. No Honduran team has reached the CONCACAF Champions League finals since Olimpia lost to Cobi Jones and the LA Galaxy in a 2000 tournament that featured only 2 Mexican clubs. Olimpia barely squeaked past the Seattle Sounders and Montreal Impact to reach the 2020 semifinals.
Club América is a very sound favorite at (+127) as a club with an even goal-differential in Liga MX, the league that actually wins the damn thing all the time.
Pick: Club América
Real Estelí FC vs Columbus Crew SC
The reigning MLS champion Columbus Crew has not played in the CONCACAF Champions League since 2011, when Columbus lost to Real Salt Lake in the quarterfinals. Yet the “Crew” is most favored among MLS clubs to take a lead in the Round of 16’s opening leg, with MyBookie giving the Ohioans a (-178) moneyline for a Thursday kickoff in Nicaragua. English Premier League veteran Bradley Wright-Phillips is among the pieces added in Columbus for 2021, as the club refuses to stand pat with a successful lineup.
Real Estelí (don’t say “Real Estate”) has an undistinguished Champions League record and is 7-2-3 in 2021 mostly due to the mild competitive strength of Nicaraguan club soccer.
Not that Major League Soccer isn’t decidedly 97th-tier in the grand universe of football, but the defending MLS champs can get it done this time.
Pick: Columbus Crew
Atlético Pantoja vs CF Monterrey
CF Monterrey is the gold standard of Liga MX competitors in CONCACAF Champions League. “Club de Fútbol Monterrey” has won the event 4 times in the last 10 years, including 2019’s victory over UANL, which returned to beat LAFC for the title in 2020. Accomplished striker Rogelio Funes Mori will cross the 100-goal threshold with Rayados this cycle barring injury, and leads an international lineup that features 8 combined footballers from Argentina, Colombia, and Paraguay.
Monterrey could be having a better spring in domestic play, as the club is currently in 4th place on Mexico’s league table with 5 victories and 2 defeats. But international events have a way of bringing everyone’s form back to the waterline – for better or worse – and Atlético Pantoja of the Dominican Republic is the type of Round of 16 host Mexican teams love to use as a punching bag. Look to bet “Over” in addition to the favorite’s ML.
Pick: CF Monterrey (-163)
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.