By Garrett Hinners
It’s a new season and the MLS is starting earlier than ever (Thanks, World Cup… seriously). Teams had just around a 90-day offseason and now it’s grind time again. It’s been one of the busiest offseasons ever for the MLS with a new expansion team, record deals going out of the league, and record deals coming in. It is literally too much for one preview article. So, we’re going to focus on some teams you need to be aware of, for better or worse from a betting perspective. Futures, fades, and enough insight that hopefully you feel at least a little better prepared for February 26th and beyond this season.
FUTURES (to win the Championship)
Atlanta United (+1600)
Last season Atlanta squeaked into the playoffs but lost in the first round to eventual champions NYCFC. Atlanta United is a prime example of why you should have multiple sportsbooks, or outs, to bet at. This should be in every betting 101 course but have multiple places to place bets and shop around for the best lines. Atlanta’s current range at the time of this article is +700 to +2500 across five major books. That’s a HUGE difference. But let’s get into why I LOVE this team this season.
Atlanta has made moves over the last 6 months or so. I spoke in the second half of last season on the acquisition of Luiz Araujo from Lille and how I thought he should be a stud when he gets settled. Usually, it’s almost a year before guys start to show their potential in MLS as the league is one of the more physical leagues in the world, but Araujo adapted faster than most. He tallied four goals and three assists in only 13 games started for Atlanta and, if he was not part of a stacked attack, could have MVP vibes this season.
That stacked attack now includes Thiago Almada. An electric number 10 and one of South America’s top prospects at only 20 years old. He comes in with a massive $16 million price tag and he very well could be worth every penny.
The last part of the stack? A healthy Josef Martinez now two full years removed from a torn ACL. In 2018, Martinez scored 31 goals. In 2019, he scored 27. Players come back in roughly a year after a knee injury like this, but you see it across almost every sport that it takes two full years to be back to normal. Martinez, along with Araujo and Alamada, amount to an attack that is only rivaled by the New England Revolution. This trio can beat anyone.
Miles Robinson may be the best one-on-one defender in the league (not the best overall, that title still belongs to Nashville SC’s Zimmerman) and manager Gonzalo Pineda made an instant impact when he took over during the season last year. These are two other crucial parts of Atlanta’s potential success. The pieces are there and the price is very attractive for a run now and for the next couple of seasons at least.
Nashville SC (+2500)
Nashville has made big strides in their first two seasons in the league. Making the playoffs in both, winning at least one playoff game two years in a row, and advancing farther last year (conference semis) than the year before. That is a great early track record for a team who can challenge. Their title odds also vary pretty distinctly ranging from +1200 to +2500. Nashville is in for an interesting year. With Charlotte FC’s inaugural season in the eastern conference, Nashville is moving to the western conference (Why not Chicago, MLS? What are we doing?). This pits Nashville against regularly strong teams in Seattle, LAFC, Sporting KC, Portland, Colorado and more. It is a more competitive conference between the 14 teams, but I do not think it is as top heavy as the East. In a way, the path to the final might actually be easier for Nashville in the West.
Nashville has last season’s MVP runner-up in Hany Mukhtar. Mukhtar fully leveled up last year being involved in 26 total goals (16 goals, 10 assists). He is an integral part of this team and how he goes (an even better season is in the cards) so goes Nashville. Charles Sapong, an MLS journeyman for most of his career, found instant success at Nashville and returned to a level many didn’t think he still had.
He’ll be joined up top full time by Ake Loba, Nashville’s record signing back in July of 2021 who illustrated exactly what I mean by a transition period coming into the MLS. Loba played less than 300 minutes across 19 games last season, but the guy is oozing with potential at 23 years old.
Nashville SC’s attack is rounded out by Rabdall Leal who was another member that took a huge jump last season. A double-digit goals and assists season is absolutely within the range of outcomes for the Costa Rican national team starter.
Additions in the midfield with Sean Davis could lead to one of the nastiest midfields in the league in terms of ball winning and aggression. Finally, the leader of the back line and USMNT regular Walker Zimmerman will ensure that Nashville’s strong defensive nature will be something that causes the western conference fits.
A longer odds team I like is Vancouver with odds +4000 to +6600. They are a long shot for a reason and I liked them more before they traded their starting keeper to LAFC, but I’ll keep this short and sweet: Ryan Gauld is an absolute baller. He is an MVP caliber player, which any team needs who is going to go all the way. He only played half a season for Vancouver last year and was the primary reason Vancouver clinched a playoff berth.
Teams That Will Take A Step Back
I actually think there are a few teams that will take a step back this season, but with so many teams across the league making record fee additions it is a little bit of a crap shoot for who will get it clicking faster than others. I’m fading these teams in no particular order:
New England Revolution: Tajon Buchanan is in Belgium and Matt Turner will be joining Arsenal in the summer,a little over midway through the MLS season. Turner is the bigger loss here as he consistently bailed out the Revs defense time and time again and, while the Revs will probably bring someone in during the summer to fill that void, there is no way of knowing what kind of impact that player will have. The attack is still tops in the MLS with Bou, Gil, and Buksa (Buksa might also leave in the summer. Lots or rumors) but defending will ultimately be their downfall.
NYCFC: I’m fading the reigning champs. It is so hard to repeat. They have had key departures in Jesus Medina to Russia and James Sands to Scotland, key pieces to the winning formula. They have managed to keep golden boot winner Valentin Castellanos (so far, but he could still leave in this window or in the summer. Basically, I do not expect him to finish the season in NYC) and I am very high on 19-year-old Talles Magno, but they will not be as potent offensively as they were last year. They also brought in Thiago Martins at center back and made him a designated player. Bringing him in was a solid move, but paying him as a DP? Paying a center back that much, historically, has not worked out for MLS teams.
Some other sides that will be worse this season? Colorado Rapids, Real Salt Lake, New York Red Bulls, and Portland Timbers are all teams that made the playoffs last year who might not be there this year. All have had key departures or giant holes that will be very difficult to overcome and achieve the same results or better from last year.
What Else Should You Know?
LAFC have made big gains this offseason. They traded for Max Crepeau, arguably the best shot stopper they have ever had, and USMNT player Kellyn Acosta. Acosta brings a nastiness to the midfield, and he has shown he can be a clutch free kick taker which is exactly what forward Christian Arango will want to come into his first full season in LA. If Carlos Vella stays healthy (turning into a bigger “if ” every year) LAFC could be elite. So, what’s the issue? An unproven head coach. Steven Cherundolo is unproven and hasn’t been impressive in his short managerial career. He was in charge of Las Vegas in the USL, and they were one of the worst teams in the league. This appointment was a complete head scratcher for what LAFC want to achieve right now and until Cherundolo proves it, backing LAFC might not be the best bet.
Seattle Sounders. I’ll start with this – Seattle could absolutely win it all this year. They brought back the important pieces and added Albert Rusnak, who was responsible for 18 total goals for Real Salt Lake last season. Seattle is probably one of two MLS sides who could try to win CONCACAF Champions League this year (kicking off this week) and that will be their primary focus to start the season. The window for a title is right now, though. Ruidiaz, Joao Paulo, and Nicolas Lodeiro are all a year older and are locked up for multiple years. Their odds are around +700 on most books to win it all and that’s just not good enough for me.
Xerdan Shaqiri has arrived! The Chicago Fire locked up Shaq in a move that both filled a need and excited the fan base. I do not think Chicago is a playoff contender this season, but Shaqiri will have games that remind people what he can do. There is a reason Lyon moved on from him after only six months, however. I think his best is behind him at 30 years old.
Lorenzo Insigne is coming! Another big name coming to MLS is Napoli star and Italian side regular Insigne to Toronto FC. He will come over this summer and I expect him to have an instant impact. There are rumors another big name will be coming over in the summer as well, but nothing official yet. The problem – Can Toronto keep their heads above water until then or will their season already be wrapped up by then, a repeat of last year’s disastrous campaign.
Charlotte FC will be in the running for worst expansion team ever. Cincinnati set that bar pretty high, but Charlotte looks committed to jumping it. I criticized Inter Miami last season for being so poorly constructed, but Charlotte FC is worse. They should be fadable all season long.
Speaking of Inter Miami, they have done a massive overhaul. Double digit players in and out. They are basically rebuilding an expansion side, not ideal, but they had to start the process of fixing everything that is broken. Big news – it looks like Gonzalo Higuain will be moving to the 10 spot instead of playing the forward role. That tells me he’s lost more gears and it remains to be seen how effective he can be in this position. Inter will still be bad, regardless.
I’m waiting on golden boot props for MLS and when lines are released you will hear about it either on the site or on the MLS show. I will also add to the futures during the season as things shake out, so be sure to keep checking in. Best of luck to all your bets this season!