By: Matt Watkins
MLS is Back Tournament Betting Preview: Group E Analysis
Who is in Group E (Alphabetical): Atlanta United FC, Columbus Crew, FC Cincinnati, New York Red Bulls
Group E is much like Group B in that the top team in the quartet should breeze into the knockout stage, with, at worst, two wins and a draw. Anything less than that for Atlanta would likely be a disappointment. New York should have a strong case for the second spot and be the only team to challenge Atlanta, but Columbus started the season well and is looking to come back to relevance.
(Note: All times listed are EST)
MLS is Back Tournament Betting Preview for Group E: Atlanta United FC
Synopsis: Not since Houston in the mid 2000’s has a team has come on and had such early success as Atlanta. United has never won less than 15 matches in any of its three seasons, made the playoffs each year, won the MLS Cup in 2018, took home the U.S. Open Cup in 2019, and went to the conference finals last year as well. They were also the only team in the Eastern Conference that started 2020 with a 2-0-0 record.
Reason for Optimism: Josef Martinez. Simply put, for all the hype about names such as David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and performances from players like Landon Donovan, Chris Wolondowski, and Kei Kamara, there has not been a more devastating offensive force than Martinez. He’s scored 77 goals in 84 regular season matches, set the league scoring record with 31 in 2018 when he won the All-Star, league, and postseason MVP awards, and is in the prime of his career at just 27 years old. If he’s on the pitch, Atlanta has a chance and should be favored.
Cause for Concern: I’ll let you know when I find it. They score. They don’t allow a ton of shots. When a shot gets through Brad Guzan, who has 64 National Team caps and played nine seasons in the Premier League, usually stops it. They are the most complete team in MLS.
Critical Group Stage Match: July 11 vs. New York, 8:00 p.m. – If anyone can give Atlanta a challenge in the group stage, it’s the Red Bulls. They are a tested and experienced team who, if they go down, it will be to the players on the pitch, not the name on the front of the kit.
Prediction: Advance to knockout, VERY likely group winner.
MLS is Back Tournament Betting Preview for Group E: Columbus Crew
Synopsis: With the exception of a brief run from 2015-2017, it’s been hard times for one of the league’s original squads, who have missed the postseason four of the last eight years. 2019 may have been the toughest to swallow, tumbling to 10th in the Eastern Conference. The Crew got off to a decent start this season at 1-0-1, playing quality teams with a win against NYCFC and a draw against Seattle.
Reason for Optimism: Defense. Even through its struggles, Columbus generally held offenses down last season, conceding 47 goals, the fourth fewest in the East and the eighth lowest total in the league overall. This year, they gave up just one tally in two games.
Cause for Concern: Scoring. As well as they’ve traditionally held teams off the board, the Crew has trouble getting onto the board itself. The 39 goals it scored in 2019 was the third lowest total in the league and even with a win and a draw this year, Columbus found the back of the net only two times. 1-0 matches are not uncommon for the Crew, it’s just a matter of who has the one.
Critical Group Stage Match: July 16 vs. New York, 10:30 p.m. – It certainly seems like how teams play against the Red Bulls is the determining factor as to how this group is going to go. Columbus’ contest with New York is no exception. With what should be a win against Cincinnati under its belt in its first match, the outcome of this contest likely determines the second team that advances from the group. If it’s to be the Crew, three points against the Red Bulls is a must (more on that later).
Prediction: Do not advance past group stage, though it’s close.
MLS is Back Tournament Betting Preview for Group E: FC Cincinnati
Synopsis: An expansion team last season, Cincinnati was 10 points worse than the next lowest team in the league, going 6-22-6. It wasn’t looking much better this season with an 0-2-0 start.
Reason for Optimism: Play away from home. FC Cincinnati went 3-11-3 away from Nippert Stadium in 2019. While that may not seem overly impressive, it was the same number of road wins as playoff teams New England and Dallas.
Cause for Concern: Scoring. 34 goals in 36 matches in club history.
Critical Group Stage Match: July 11 vs. Columbus, 10:30 p.m. – Being honest, there really isn’t a critical match for Cincinnati, who should go 0-3-0 in Orlando. If there is any chance to steal a point, let alone three, it’s in the opener against the Crew. Oddsmakers don’t see it though as Cincinnati is a hefty +325 underdog, the second worst money line of any opening match in the tournament, which is saying something considering the competition.
Prediction: Do not advance past group stage.
MLS is Back Tournament Betting Preview for Group E: New York Red Bulls
Synopsis: The club the entire group hinges upon, the Red Bulls have been the model of consistency in MLS from the very beginning, qualifying for the postseason 22 of 25 years. They are experienced and make the playoffs on an annual basis, but have never achieved postseason success, only advancing to the MLS Cup final in 2008. They were 1-0-1 with a win against Cincinnati and a draw at Real Salty Lake in 2020.
Reason for Optimism: Coaching. Chris Armas has been there before as a player for the National Team (64 caps) and in MLS (264 caps between the LA Galaxy and Chicago, spanning 13 years) and won 47 matches in four seasons at his alma mater as a coach. He will not crack under pressure and the club takes its lead from him.
Cause for Concern: Goalkeeping. Luis Robles is gone after seven years as the starting keeper for the Red Bulls. David Jensen has been tabbed as the replacement. It is his first year stateside, following a four-year run with Utrecht in the top level of Danish professional soccer.
Critical Group Stage Match: July 16 vs. Columbus, 10:30 p.m. – As we stated earlier, the outcome of this match likely determines the second team to advance from the group. The advantage the Red Bulls have here is their overall scoring ability. A loss to Columbus would be tough to overcome, but a draw in this match favors NY as its scoring punch, particularly if they pile it on against Cincinnati should give them a goal differential advantage if the Red Bulls and Crew both go 1-1-1.
Prediction: Advance to knockout.