By: Matt Watkins
MLS is Back Tournament Betting Preview: Group F Analysis
Who’s In Group F (Alphabetical): Houston Dynamo, LAFC, LA Galaxy, Portland Timbers
Anyone who believes this wasn’t a completely random draw and that the MLS has an agenda in the tournament, either to advance certain teams or to feature rivalries, will point to Group F and say that if things were really random, there’s no way LAFC would be in the same pool with the LA Galaxy.
It is MLS marquee head-to-head and will attract a major west coast audience for El Traffico. It also highlights a group that, for better or worse, shouldn’t see a ton of surprise.
(Note: All times listed are EST)
MLS is Back Tournament Betting Preview for Group F: Houston Dynamo
Synopsis: In the last several seasons, the most exciting thing about Houston has been its team name. I mean, Dynamo is pretty cool, right?? Dynamic on the pitch, however, it is not. Since entering the league with a bang, winning the MLS Cup in each of its first two seasons, Houston has missed the playoffs five of the last six years, though it did win a U.S. Open championship in 2018. 2020 wasn’t off to a great start either at 0-1-1 and just one goal against five conceded in its two matches.
Reason for Optimism: When they do well, they do really well. If somehow, Houston catches fire, they tend to make extended runs in the postseason, an experience that would serve well in the knockout stage. Getting there is the issue.
Cause for Concern: Lack of secondary scoring. Mauro Manotas has been an excellent striker for the Dynamo in his career, netting 43 goals in the last three-plus seasons since entering the starting lineup full time and has Houston’s only goal this year. If he’s having an off night, though, there aren’t many others who will pick up the scoring slack. Another reason: Houston has been DREADFUL away from home. Beginning with 2014, the Dynamo is just 10-57-19 away from the Space City. Draws won’t do it in this tournament. Wins advance teams and a .227 winning percentage on the road in the last six years doesn’t bode well.
Critical Group Stage Match: July 18 vs. Portland, 8:00 p.m. – While I think the game against the LA Galaxy is a better matchup and more winnable, in order for that contest to mean anything, Houston has to have something on the table heading into its final match. That won’t come against LAFC in the first contest, so the Dynamo needs to get at least a point, preferably three versus Portland in order to not have their bags already packed prior to its finale.
Prediction: Do not advance past group stage.
MLS is Back Tournament Betting Preview for Group F: LAFC
Synopsis: Despite only being around two seasons, LAFC has become one of the dominant forces in MLS, leading the league in scoring and winning the community shield in 2019. They were off to a 1-0-1 start in 2020 with both matches at home. One key note for LAFC came out on Monday afternoon as 2019 MLS MVP Carlos Vela will miss the tournament due to what is being called a “family situation.” (To note, Vela’s wife is expecting the couple’s second child. The team says it is completely behind Vela’s decision and that he should be with his family right now.)
While not a natural striker, Diego Rossi will likely take over as a focal part of the offensive attack with Brian Rodriguez getting time on the wing. It probably won’t affect the group standings much overall, but it is something to watch for in the knockout stage.
Reason for Optimism: Dominance. 21-4-9. That was LAFC’s record last season. 72 points, eight more than anyone else in MLS. The club scored the most goals in the league and conceded the fewest, resulting in a ridiculous +48 goal differential. They don’t just beat you, they take away your will to live. Both teams know LAFC is better than you before they step on the pitch. Then they prove it.
Cause for Concern: Eastern Conference Elite. As good as LAFC is, it has at times, struggled to keep the top squads in the East off the board. Since the beginning of 2019, against the other 22 teams in the league, LAFC has surrendered 31 goals in 36 matches, 0.86 per match with 10 clean sheets. Against NYCFC, Atlanta, and Philadelphia, it has allowed nine goals in four matches. Just something to keep an eye on as the knockout stage progresses.
Critical Group Stage Match: July 18 vs. LA Galaxy, 10:30 p.m. – The Galaxy has been the only Western Conference team that has displayed any ability to score consistently against LAFC. It’s the best chance for someone to give a game in the group stage. LAFC will still likely win the match or at least earn a point with Vela out, but his absence will shift the line in some way.
Prediction: Advance to knockout with a heavy likelihood as group winner.
MLS is Back Tournament Betting Preview for Group F: LA Galaxy
Synopsis: While not the dominant team of the early 2010’s that won three out of four MLS Cups, the original Los Angeles entry into the league has remained a formidable foe, qualifying for the postseason in 23 of its 25 seasons. It’s a new Galaxy team, however, one that lacks big name star power and a willingness to display it as the days of Landon Donovan, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robbie Keane, and Carlos Ruiz are gone. The talent is there with Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez up front, but LA needs to find a cohesion as it started the season 0-1-1.
Reason for Optimism: Chicharito will play. There was concern when the Mexican standout, who has 52 goals in 109 caps for the national team, was subbed out at halftime of the Galaxy inter-squad game on July 2. The Galaxy GM stated it was just a precaution and he should be back in training and will travel with the team to Orlando. Even if him being at the tournament is decoy, it gives something for opposing managers to have to think about as the international star plays his first season in MLS.
Cause for Concern: Jonathan dos Santos will not. The two-time MLS All-Star has been ruled out of the tournament due to injury requiring minor hernia surgery. Part of the rationale behind signing Chicharito away from La Liga was to pair him with dos Santos, a teammate on the Mexican national squad who can be very creative with his distribution, even as a holding midfielder. Now without dos Santos, Chicharito may be able to play, but who gets him the ball will be up for question.
Critical Group Stage Match: July 13 vs. Portland, 10:30 p.m. – With Houston on the back end of its schedule, even a loss against LAFC in the middle game isn’t a tournament crusher. In order to make that matter, though, the Galaxy will have to play well and pull at least a point against Portland in the first match. That plus a win against the Dynamo and goal differential should see them through, but it all starts with the first match, which oddsmakers see as a tossup, as both have a +154 money line.
Prediction: Advances to knockout.
MLS is Back Tournament Betting Preview for Group F: Portland Timbers
Synopsis: Maybe it’s just something in the water in the Pacific Northwest as, much like the Seattle Sounders, Portland doesn’t do anything great, but doesn’t have a glaring weakness. They’ve got championship experience, winning the MLS Cup in 2015 and advancing to the finals in 2018. They were 1-1-0 with a loss against Minnesota and a win against Nashville in 2020.
Reason for Optimism: Play away from home. One thing about teams that are neither spectacular or deficient in any specific area is that their style usually translates to being able to play anywhere against anyone. In the last three seasons, they have averaged 15.3 points per season on the road, a solid number, which should travel relatively well to a neutral site.
Cause for Concern: Secondary scoring. Diego Valeri has scored both of Portland’s goals in 2020 after an eight goal campaign last season. He was part of a dynamic trio that included Brian Fernandez and Jeremy Ebobisse. Fernandez had his contract terminated at the end of last season and Ebobisse has played a total of 23 minutes this season. Where is Valeri’s help if he can’t get loose on his own?
Critical Group Stage Match: July 18 vs. Houston, 8:00 p.m. – With an even matchup to open the tournament, the onus to perform at the highest possible level comes in the middle game, against the weakest team in the group, to not just get three points, but also to build goal differential.
Prediction: Does not advance past group stage.