MLS Cup Futures: Toronto Vs. Seattle Three Years Running?
Seattle, like Toronto, will try to reach their third straight finals. Only DC United (1996 to 1999) and the New England Revolution (2005 to 2007) have made three or more consecutive Finals. When Washington made four straight Finals, the MLS was a much smaller league. In 1999, the last of their four years, only 12 teams competed in the league. New England lost their three straight Finals appearances and is 0-5 all-time in the Championship match.
Although the regular season started last week, one or two matches are not enough to change who started the season as the favourites. Toronto is the top choice to win the Cup in 2018. After a historic season in 2017, Toronto returns most of its starting lineup in 2018.
Toronto does have some competition this season. Their biggest competitor (at the start of the season) is the New York City FC. Just in their fourth season, NYC FC has climbed the ranks of the MLS. NYC FC finished second in the Eastern Conference last season with 57 points. Captained by David Villa, the team is well-rounded and continuing to show signs of improvement.
The top two teams in the Western Conference include are Seattle and Portland. The Pacific North-western teams finished one and two in the Western Conference last season and had represented the West Conference in the last three MLS Cups.
Outside of the top two teams in each Conference, the best underdogs to wager are United Atlanta and Sporting Kansas City (more to come on those two clubs later).
Will The Toronto FC Repeat As Champions?
While the Toronto FC are the best team in the MLS, this season sees the team playing additional games and as well having a target on their back from the rest of the league.
The additional games (primarily stemming from their participation in CONCACAF) may or may not play a huge factor this season. It depends on how far the Toronto FC make it in the tournament. The issue though is Toronto’s most considerable concern this season is player health.
Toronto’s top players, Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, both have a history of injuries. Last season, the two missed a combined 16 games. While, Toronto’s roster is deep, continually surviving without one or both of their top-players will eventually take a toll on the team’s success.
While the oddsmakers have New York City FC as Toronto’s biggest competition, people should not sleep on Atlanta United FC this season. Atlanta joined the MLS last season and saw immediate success. Atlanta finished the year with a +30 goal differential. Not only was it the best mark ever by an expansion team, but it was also the fourth best differential in MLS history.
Atlanta played well against good teams last season. They split their matches against NYC FC, and both games against Toronto ended in a draw. Atlanta made the playoffs but lost to the Columbus Crew in penalty kicks. Atlanta kept much of their team intact while adding an exciting, young midfield named Ezequiel Barco to pair with Jose Martinez.
While Atlanta’s first game of the season was a bit of an embarrassment (losing 4-0 to the Houston Dynamo), they played well in their next match, and with an excellent home crowd (which helped Atlanta lead the MLS last season in average attendance with over 48000 per game), they should continue to show improvements in their second season.
It may be a bit risky to pick at Atlanta to represent the East, what they showed in their first season plus a more daunting schedule for Toronto and Atlanta can muster up enough offence to beat any team in the league.
Can Seattle Win The West Again?
Seattle, Portland and the LA Galaxy are the top picks to represent the Western Conference in the MLS Finals this season. Since joining the MLS in 2009, Seattle has made the playoffs every season. Last season, Seattle was a bigger team than they were in 2016, when they won the title.
Seattle’s nine losses last season tied for the second fewest in the MLS, while their +13-goal differential was the best by any team in the Western Conference. Portland finished with the best record in the Western Conference last season and
Seattle’s biggest competition may actually not come from Portland or LA Galaxy, but from Sporting Kansas City. Kansas City allowed a league-low 29 goals last (the fewest goals allowed by a team in the previous five years). They have a strong team, capable of grinding out close wins (despite never being the best offence in Major League Soccer)
Their excellent defence is not getting much love from the oddsmakers, making them a highly profitable team to wager on this season. Kansas City has made the playoffs for seven straight seasons (capturing the Cup in 2013). While much of their roster has changed since 2013, they still have midfielders Jimmy Medranda and Graham Zusi.
Kansas City’s offence looked good in their second game of the season, scoring four goals to beat the Chicago Fire. Kansas City did not score four goals in a game once last season. With a better offence, they should see an improvement in their record and be one of the top teams in the MLS this season. Additionally, once they get into the playoffs, their stout defence and goaltending will make them a very tough out (even if they have to travel to Portland or Seattle).
MLS Cup Finals Prediction
In a battle of offence versus defence, Atlanta United FC will try and capture their first MLS Cup (in only their second year of existence), against the Sporting Kansas City.
Since both are moderate underdogs, wagering on both Atlanta at +900 and Kansas City at +3000 will net a nice profit if either team wins. However, for those looking for just one winner, Atlanta is the better bet to win the MLS Cup in 2018.
Atlanta’s team is only better from last season when they were historically strong for an expansion team. The additions they made in the offseason strengthened their club. While their best players, including striker Jose Martinez, should at minimum maintain the level of production they had in 2017. Overall, Atlanta’s a better team than Kansas City and a smart pick to win the 2018 MLS Cup.
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