It’s a tumultuous time in major college and professional sports, perhaps more confusing than the cross-continental suspension of play back in March. NCAA football’s season is on the brink and may eventually be postponed until spring. Major League Baseball is postponing contests as needed to try to get through a 60-game campaign. NHL skaters may get tired of playing ice hockey due to the league’s unwise plans to cram 2 seasons into 10-11 months. The NBA is awash in politics and controversy.
Soccer, meanwhile, keeps soldiering ahead without too many pitfalls. Premier League footballers are taking a well-earned break in August after seeing the remainder of the EPL slate and the FA Cup to its conclusion, though the 3 teams with ongoing UEFA schedules must continue to train and play through the offseason. CONCACAF is off to a flying (re)start with Mexican club matches in action and Major League Soccer’s “MLS is Back” tournament, which rewards its victor with a Champions League bid.
CONCACAF Champions League play would be a new experience for Orlando City Soccer Club, the upstart of Tuesday night’s MLS is Back Final. Orlando SC has only been around for 5 years and has never posted a winning season, coming closest when a 2017 lineup led by Canadian forward Cyle Larin won 9 times and lost 11. FC Cincinnati may have been a popular Cinderella pick during the MLS is Back round robin, but Orlando SC has arrived at the dance and could take a significant step in the club’s history.
Portland could also use a lifeline to the international scene. The Timbers haven’t rolled into the CL since losing to Deportivo Saprissa in the 2016-17 Group Stage. Portland managed to reach the MLS Cup Final in 2018 despite losing 10 domestic league fixtures, but lost in the 1st round last year. 2015’s title remains the only time the Timbers have won a competition outright.
Not to diminish the bright side. Portland’s finalists are not only out-competing Oregon’s lone NBA franchise, but could further show-up the Rose City cagers by beating Orlando SC in Orlando while the Trail Blazers keep on losing…in Orlando.
With so much riding on a single MLS meeting, let’s compare odds from betting sites around the web and handicap the best bets in each main market – along with maybe a proposition or 2.
Portland vs Orlando City Moneyline Comparison
MyBookie has the clubs handicapped about evenly, at (+160) for the Timbers and (+147) for Orlando’s “Lions” to prevail without penalties. The sportsbook’s “Draw” line of (+244) may be a little generous to betting clients considering how many coaches have employed conservative, cautious tactics in the course of the tournament.
Remember, a match doesn’t need to finish 0-0 to pay off the Draw market, or even 1-1 or 2-2 for that matter. All it takes is a deadlock and a manager willing to settle for tiebreakers.
Portland got a taste of extra time in the Round of 16 against an emotional FC Cincinnati. Orange and Blue didn’t possess the football as often as the Timbers, of course, and didn’t pass it as well as Portland did…of course. The Timbers finished with 10 corner kick attempts to 0 for the underdogs. But new striker Jarosław Niezgoda’s goal early in the 2nd half didn’t hold Cincinnati down for long, and the Portlanders had to survive a penalty round 4-2 to advance in the bracket.
In the quarterfinals, it was Orlando’s turn, as LAFC scored to take a 1-0 lead in a foul-filled contest before Lions left-back João Moutinho scored to draw level at 90:00. This time the penalty round was more than just anxious – it was a striker’s dream and a supporter’s heart attack.
FanDuel’s line on a draw is (+240), but Bovada’s (+250) presents the best alternative.
Portland (+160) is the better of the team-to-win moneyline bets. All things equal, the club’s experience in big playoff games could tell Tuesday’s psychological tale. Orlando did reach the U.S. Open Cup semifinals in 2019.
MLS is Back Final: Finding the Best Over/Under Bet
Here come the Asian Handicaps! After so many years predicting sports against betting lines I’m still stumped for how exactly to understand or explain Asian Handicaps, which involve calculations Thomas Edison would dismiss as too intricate.
In layman terms an Asian Handicapped goal total sets the O/U between a halved number and a whole number, for instance “2, 2.5.” If your prediction is basically correct on the “close” side, but not decisively, say a 2-goal outcome on the Under (2, 2.5) then the winning payoff will only be a % of what the odds promise. MyBookie likes to use “3/4” and “1/4” fractions to represent shifting lines which are pushing or dropping from whole-number handicaps. But an odds-manager from MyBookie tells me that they’re never intended or calculated as actual Asian lines.
My short advice on Asian Handicaps is not to wager on them – it’s just another complication intended to help the bookmaker survive without losses. But for those interested in such things, Bovada’s Asian Handicap of the goal total for Portland vs Orlando City is (2.5, 3). FanDuel, however, it offering its usual choice of odds on (1.5), (2.5), and (3.5) O/U lines.
Under (2.5) is a (+118) payoff at FanDuel Sportsbook. That’s a mild surprise, as the Timbers and Lions have been keeping large numbers of shot attempts safely wide or high of keepers Steve Clark and Pedro Gallese respectively. Minnesota attempted 17 shots in Thursday’s semifinal vs Orlando, but Gallese only needed to make 3 saves. Clark made 8 saves in Portland’s 2-1 semifinal win over the Philadelphia Union, but LAFC and New York City Football Club whiffed on a combined 23 shot attempts vs the Timbers in the previous 2 knockout rounds. Opponents are penetrating Portland’s 4-2-3-1 formation but not finishing the chore.
Can the Lions do better? Orlando City’s attack revolves around Nani, the 33-year-old Portuguese winger with 3 goals and 3 assists in the MLS is Back tournament. Nani scored 25 goals for Manchester United as a 20-something and has scored 20+ times for the Portugal National Team, though he’s more of a traditional winger than a striker, cutting into the box after dribbling into space, and setting-up teammates for quality shots as often as he himself takes them. Nani’s fellow countryman Moutinho could turn out to be as handy on long-range shots and crosses from the back line as the club’s star winger up front, but the latter has an obvious temper issue on the pitch, and has been handed 4 yellow cards in a short span of matches. Orlando City’s midfield is not world-class.
Portland’s front lines seem a little more dynamic, or at least more of an ensemble cast. Diego Valeri, a player who gave up a minor role in La Liga for a long-term contract in the USA, has scored 3 times since Major League Soccer returned. Jeremy Ebobisse of the Stars & Stripes has matched Valeri’s goal total so far, but is also developing as a passer after years of creating few chances and collecting almost no assists. Sebastián Blanco is a versatile veteran with quickness and set-up skills.
Neither team’s back-4 is objectively capable of posting clean sheets against those kind of attackers without good fortune. However, gambling action may have so-far overlooked the impetus of each club to keep a tight watch without the ball.
Portland does not want to fall behind Orlando and hand the Lions an easy game plan, protecting the box and throwing long-balls to Nani on the flank. Orlando City really doesn’t want to fall behind Portland, which would give the side with some semblance of championship credentials an opportunity to put that experience to work. MLS is Back has been a physical, grueling tournament, and if working with a 1-0 or 2-0 lead, either club’s midfield will be glad to sacrifice a few free kicks-against for hard tackles. The threat of what happens after the 1st opposing goal is scored will keep managers Savarese and Pareja from ordering forward numbers.
For those reasons, and because MLS strikers are struggling to keep their shots in the troposphere, FanDuel’s Under (2.5) has at least a coin-flip chance of paying off and potentially better. At 1.2-to-1 odds, the pick is obvious.
Now for a few quick-takes on promised prop odds, courtesy of Bovada.
Correct Score: Portland 1, Orlando City 0 (+900)
9-to-1 = pretty good odds for a result that has about a 1-in-5 chance of happening.
(Method of 1st Goal)
Open Play Shot Inside The Box (-143)
Open Play Shot Outside The Box (+600)
Own Goal (+1800)
Direct From Free Kick (+2200)
It’s crazy that “Open Play Shot Inside The Box” is getting so much action when A) fixtures have been so foul-filled, B) penalties in the 1st 90:00+ has been a significant chunk of the tournament’s scoring, and C) so many MLS players are taking long shots. Penalty and Open Play Shot Outside The Box are each superior wagers in the prop market.
Exactly 0 +1200
Exactly 1 +475
Exactly 2 +300
Exactly 3 +320
Exactly 4 +450
Exactly 5 +800
A successful small bet on “Exactly 3” refunds the O/U wager in case U (2.5) loses by 1/2 of a goal. Or, go ahead and double-up on our prediction (address at bottom of page for hate-mail later) by picking 1 goal or 2 goals at similar payoff odds.
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.