Major League Soccer just kicked off its 22nd season last week. The league is never going to be a major betting power in this country, nor will it be a primary world soccer power. The thing is, though, that it doesn't need to be. For a long time I literally couldn't have cared less about the league. That changed for me, though, when I accidentally happened upon a pregame rally in Seattle and took in the game on a whim. It was amazing - as good a fan experience as you could hope for. Since then I've slowly come around on the league - and the betting opportunities it can offer.
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If you haven't given it a chance yet, you should. You don't have to make it a primary betting focus by any means, but in the dog days of the summer it could be a useful diversion from the endless grind of baseball. To help you get started - either this year if you know the league, or for the first time if you don't - here's a primer of what you need to know ( futures odds are from BetOnline ):
The logistics: The league has expanded from 20 to 22 teams this year, with the addition of Atlanta United FC and Minnesota United FC. There are three Canadian teams - Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver - and 19 American. New York City FC and Orlando City SC are in just their third year in the league after the most recent previous expansion. Los Angeles FC joins the league next year as the second team in that market - New York is currently the only market with two squads. Miami will tentatively join in 2019, though they need to get their stadium situation sorted out first. The 22 teams this year play a season that stretches from May until October, and they will play 34 regular-season games before 12 teams make the playoffs and play down to the MLS Cup final in early December.
New blood: The addition of high-price foreign talent is controlled, but it can have a huge impact on teams when it goes well. It can also end badly if the player doesn't adjust or doesn't have enough to give to match his reputation. This year three names stand out as the most intriguing, high-profile additions. Atlanta made a big splash in their first year by outbidding competition including Arsenal for 23-year-old Argentinean star Miguel Almiron. He obviously didn't come cheap, but he has the chance to bring respectability to Georgia in a hurry. Romain Alessandrini fell out of favor with his long-time Marseille club, but he's only 27 so he should have plenty to give to the L.A. Galaxy. Portland just fell short of the playoffs last year, but the addition of midfielder Sebastian Blanco, who has been a star in Argentina and elsewhere, should give them a big boost. On the domestic side, Minnesota adds first overall draft pick Abu Danladi. He came from UCLA and is originally from Ghana. He's a scoring machine who could threaten the rookie scoring records if he can stay healthy.
The best of the best: David Villa of New York City FC. He's Spain's all-time international goal scorer, so his success is no surprise. He's back again this year, but he's 35 now so sooner or later he's going to start to slow down. Most experts at this point have the MVP race down to two front runners - Sebastian Giovinco of Toronto FC, who won the award two years ago, and Giovani dos Santos of the L.A. Galaxy.
The elite squads: Last year Seattle beat Toronto in the MLS Cup in penalty kicks after all play had been exhausted at a 0-0 draw. The Sounders (+800) are the fourth betting choice to repeat this year. The league has had three repeat champions - most recently L.A. Galaxy in 2011 and 2012 - so it's not inconceivable that the Sounders could win again. The L.A. Galaxy and New York Red Bulls are the co-favorites at +600. Both teams have gone through plenty of offseason changes, and I don't really get the love for either team. Toronto FC is the third choice at +650. They made the finals last year and have improved in the offseason. They are the favorites in my eyes, so there is relative value here. Fifth choice FC Dallas (+900) is another team that isn't getting the respect they should from bettors. Atlanta United FC is an interesting long shot at +5000. As we discussed in part earlier, they were aggressive in building this team and have real playoff potential in their inaugural season. They have done a very good job of combining veteran leadership with precocious youth. They should be fun to watch.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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