MLS Betting Preview
by Trevor Whenham - 07/12/2007
Practically no one in the United States cares about soccer. We are about to enter the David Beckham Era, which is a very expensive gamble by the MLS and the owners of the L.A. Galaxy to raise the profile of their league and the size of their wallets. I strongly suspect that the end result will still be that no one will care about soccer, but at the very least the arrival of Becks and Posh Spice in Hollywood will get more mainstream media attention than all other MLS players have received combined since the league was formed. Along with that attention we should see more betting action and, hopefully, some soft lines that can be exploited. Before you can exploit those lines, though, you need to know a bit about the league. You'll have to do more homework for yourself, but here's a primer to get you started. If you know these five things about the season this far then you already know more than 99.9 percent of people in the country.
Incidentally, if you don't follow soccer much then let me answer the one question you may have - yes, Beckham really is very, very good. He showed this season with Real Madrid just how valuable and creative he can be, and he has deserved his international reputation (he's also deserved much of the criticism, too). He may not be worth $250 million, if only because no one really is, but he will still have a significant impact on his team and the league.
1. The Houston Dynamo are the best team in the league in the first half. Despite the fact that Beckham is still a couple of weeks away from his first game, the league has been going strong for quite a while now. The Dynamo have shown themselves to be the cream of the crop so far, as they did last year when they won the championship. They have nine wins and two draws in their 16 games to date. They have been doing it almost entirely based on the strength of their defense. They have not allowed a goal in their last 515 minutes. Soccer games go on forever, but even still that's a heck of a long time. Other teams are solid - New England, D.C., and New York among them - but Houston is the team to beat for now. They got off to a terrible 2-5-1 start, but have been unbeatable at 7-0-1 since then.
2. Real Salt Lake is terrible. That team will be familiar to many because it is where Freddy Adu was traded to in the offseason. His presence certainly hasn't helped. The team has just one win and six draws in 14 games. Things aren't likely to get much better, either. Adu is at the U-20 World Cup for now, and when he gets back his heart isn't likely to be into his team despite his brilliance at the international tournament so far. He is frustrated by his club team, and he clearly longs to head for Europe. The kid is really, really good, but not nearly good enough to salvage a lost season in Utah.
3. Toronto is not your typical expansion team. Don't be fooled by their youth and their shiny new uniforms - this team is dangerous. They are not among the elite in the league, but they are certainly solid, and Toronto is proving to be a tough place to play. Perhaps the most impressive player on the field has been Maurice Edu. He's a rookie, but he sure doesn't look like one. Edu was the first overall draft pick this year out of Maryland, and the midfielder hasn't disappointed. With growing confidence and experience this team could shock some teams and pay off some supporters handsomely. They have some problems - most notably they have already played 29 players, which is the most of any team by a fair bit - but the future is bright.
4. Beckham isn't joining a very good team. The Galaxy have three wins and four draws in 12 games so far. There are obviously reasons to be optimistic about the future, not the least of which being the addition of Beckham. They also have Landon Donovan, the best player on their roster by a wide margin up to this point, back from his international commitments. If Donovan and Beckham can quickly learn to co-exist in the midfield then they could be a potent duo that could wreak havoc. The problem is that the presence of Beckham will mean that opponents will be up for every game, and that lines are likely to be inflated for every Galaxy game. Even if the team improves there is likely to be little value in betting on them.
5. When in doubt, pick the home team. The home team advantage is real in most major sports, and the MLS certainly is no exception. Nothing illuminates that reality more than this bizarre stat - of the 14 teams in the league, only two have losing records at home. On the other hand, nine teams are below .500 on the road. Some disparity between home and away success is expected, but that's ridiculous.