Major League Soccer’s 26th season kicks off this weekend after a 25th anniversary season which saw upheaval and a midseason tournament thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This season sees a return to normalcy with a regular schedule and fans in the stands, depending on the team. There’s also a new team joining the fray, Austin Football Club, which makes 27 teams now vying for the MLS Cup.
For the three local teams to New Jersey, New York City F.C. (NYCFC), the New York Red Bulls, and the Philadelphia Union, two of the teams are looking at the MLS Cup as a possible goal to attain while one is looking at rebuilding.
The defending Supporters’ Shield winner has brought back the vast majority of their young nucleus, most notably defending Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake.
They did sell two of their starters, Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie, to European clubs in the off-season but have the deep roster to continue the team on their upward trend.
New York City Football Club
- William Hill +1000
- BetMGM +1000
- DraftKings +1100
Due to scheduling conflicts with the New York Yankees, NYCFC will play their home games at their cross-river rival Red Bulls’ Red Bull Arena for the second season in a row.
Despite not being able to play at home, NYCFC made the playoffs and is poised to make another run for the MLS Cup. With veteran goalie Sean Johnson and midfielder Maximiliano Moralez and forward Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, NYCFC is looking to make it past the quarterfinals this year.
New York Red Bulls
- William Hill +2000
- BetMGM +2200
- DraftKings +3000
For the past decade or so, the Red Bulls has been one of the East’s top teams but has little to show for it. There has been a decline in the past couple of seasons, which led to the firing of Chris Armas as head coach and the arrival of Gerhard Struber.
Having Aaron Long and Sean Davis to help in the back will be a plus for the Metro, but the youth up front, most notably teenage midfielder Caden Clark, Cristian Casseres Jr., and Tom Barlow, will be needed to score goals for the Red Bulls to have any success this year.
What about other MLS teams?
For New Jersey betters looking to make some money on MLS this year, a couple of West Coast teams are among the favorites. The Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) and the Seattle Sounders looking to be the leaders in the MLS Cup race.
Los Angeles Football Club
- DraftKings +500
- William Hill +400
- BetMGM +500
Having star striker Carlos Vela back from missing all last season due to injury makes LAFC the odds-on favorite to win their first MLS Cup in just their fifth season.
Vela, along with 2020 Golden Boot winner for top scorer Diego Rossi and Latif Blessing, should be able to make up for the fact that coach Bob Bradley isn’t exactly sure who will be the number one keeper. It’s between Kenneth Vermeer and Pablo Sisniega, neither of whom established themselves yet as the top choice.
- William Hill +500
- DraftKings +600
- BetMGM +800
There was a lot of change for the MLS Cup runners-up over the off-season, most notably the loss of Jordan Morris to a knee injury suffered while on loan at Swansea City. Seattle also saw Gustav Svensson and Kelvin Leerdam leave the team after last year.
Despite that, the Sounders still have Raul Ruidiaz, along with the return of Sounders’ all-time scoring leader Fredy Montero. So this team is poised to defend its Western Conference championship.
However, MLS’ Eastern Conference also has two teams that offer interesting bets for soccer fans: Toronto F.C. and the Columbus Crew.
- William Hill +500
- DraftKings +550
- BetMGM +900
The Crew, who are the defending MLS Cup winners, have brought back their core of players. This group. led by Darlington Nagbe and Gyasi Zardes, have designs on the MLS Cup and the CONCACAF Champions League as well.
To add insult to injury, the Crew have added Bradley Wright-Phillips to their already potent attack. And they have the deep bench that will bring them far during the long MLS regular season.
Toronto Football Club
- William Hill +500
- DraftKings +900
- BetMGM +1200
Toronto F.C. has stayed pretty much the same after a season that saw them finish the regular season in second-place but lose to first-year Nashville SC in the first round of the playoffs.
Most teams would make a move or two to build off of the season prior. Still, with a solid base of veteran players like Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Jonathan Osorio, Toronto feels that they still have the firepower to make another run towards the MLS Cup.
AP Photo/Jay LaPrete