There are 2 rules of thumb in soccer. The game never sleeps, and important matches are always creeping up on you.
State-side supporters who are happily caught up in English Premier League and UEFA football these days – and setting their alarm clocks accordingly – should prepare to finally witness live, local matches in the evening beginning in early March. Major League Soccer is gearing up for another round.
Atlanta United won the 2018 MLS Cup Final in a terrific 2-0 result over the Portland Timbers. Atlanta is led by record-setting MLS striker Josef Martínez who scored an amazing 35 goals last season.
But the squad from Georgia is not an odds-on favorite to protect the throne this December. Here’s a look at a handful of likely contenders in ’19.
New York Red Bulls ((+500) Odds-to-Win 2019 MLS Cup at BetOnline)
The Red Bulls needed to address their playoff failures after a 3-1 aggregate loss to eventual champions Atlanta United in 2018. But losing USMNT midfielder Tyler Adams could set the club back even further.
Gamblers seem to believe that the squad’s impressive depth and goalkeeping will tide things over. GK Luis Robles saw a record-long string of 183 consecutive MLS starts snapped last May. But big-time pressure will fall on midfielder Sean Davis to approximate the wizardry of Adams.
Kaku’s transfer saga also continues to fester as rumors fly that he’s trying to force a move to Club America to be closer to his family.
Wait, why are the Red Bulls at 5-to-1 again?
Atlanta United (+600)
The defending champs are just a few paces behind on the odds board at 6-to-1. Frank de Boer steps into the skipper’s chair and must immediately deal with Almirón s departure to Newcastle United.
Fresh talent is everywhere in the organization, and de Boer isn’t afraid to let youngsters shine. 2nd-year midfielder Andrew Carleton could see more time with the Five Stripes this summer. George Bello, a developing defender, has been compared to Alphonso Davies of Bayern Munich.
Atlanta United’s MLS Cup win over Portland was the type of fast-paced and breathless club soccer we’ve come to expect from elite leagues around the world.
Bettors can be skeptical of the team’s chances to repeat (hence the longer line than NYRB), but there’s no denying that the Cup is currently well-represented.
LA Galaxy (+600)
Another new coach arrives on-scene as the Galaxy mourn the loss of former coach Sigi Schmidt.
Guillermo Barros Schelotto takes the reigns of a well-funded club that failed to make the playoffs in 2018 despite the arrival of global superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Uruguayan center-back Polenta will add class to the backline.
Despite the loss of Ashley Cole, Schelotto maintains a nucleus the likes of Alessandrini, the dos Santos brothers, and Swedish forward Ola Kamara.
New York City Football Club (+900)
The Pigeons will be hoping to build on recent success with ex-Pep Guardiola aid Domènec Torrent signed as the club’s new skipper. But a void will need to be filled with the recent transfer of David Villa.
Torrent might have already found a striker in record-breaking Alexandru Mitrita, who arrives with a $9 million price-tag. At only 23 years of age, he has plenty of time to grow into a dynamo in the Bronx.
Mitrita will line up alongside skillful attackers Jesus Medina, Maxi Moralez, and Keaton Parks, recently dubbed the team’s new captain.
Los Angeles Football Club (+1000)
All due respect to the runners-up Portland Timbers, but LAFC was easily the best West Coast soccer story of 2018.
A brand new franchise took the league by storm. The first for-keeps match in club history was a triumphant 1-0 result over the Seattle Sounders. As if to prove it was no accident, the squad beat Seattle again in April. LAFC rode the momentum of early upset wins all the way to a playoff appearance.
Skipper Bob Bradley has convinced Carlos Vela to return despite whispers of Barcelona sniffing around the 29-year-old Mexican forward. Vela should remain the linchpin of Bradley’s attack.
Seattle Sounders (+1000)
Seattle has had an unremarkable off-season after a year in which the Sounders made the playoffs without big contributions from Jordan Morris or Clint Dempsey. Morris went out with an ACL injury and Dempsey’s age is finally catching up to him.
Kelvin Leerdam and Jordy Delem have gotten green cards and will no longer use up international spots. But of more concern for Sounders supporters are the constant rumors swirling around key defender Roman Torres.
Losing Torres could dramatically change Seattle’s look in the back. Chad Marshall is turning 35 and unable to shoulder the load himself.
Portland Timbers (+1200)
The strong organizational skills of skipper Giovanni Savarese deserve praise in light of Portland’s dramatic run at the grail in ’18. But the club is also known for its fruitful youth development program, and that trait is reflected in a current roster in which 15 of the athletes are 25 years old or younger.
A veteran core will remain intact with Diego Valeri, Diego Chara, and Sebastian Blanco all under contract. Gamblers simply don’t think the Timbers can do it again, regardless.
Toronto FC (+1400)
The 2017 champions couldn’t repeat after a busy CONCACAF run, with the added travel and highly-competitive fixtures proving to be a burden for veterans on the squad.
Greg Vaney was MLS Coach of the Year in 2017 and will be looking to take his club into the Eastern playoffs again. Toronto lost to the Mexican outfit Guadalajara after reaching the Champions League final, making 2018 anything but a waste.
Striker Sebastian Giovinco departs Toronto having left the club and the MLS in a better place. But he leaves Jozy Altidore to pick up the void along with new signee Terrence Boyd.
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.