Columbus Crew v Chicago Fire – Mapfre Stadium at 19:30
For me personally, MLS 2016 was a fantastic success. I had one of my best years in the league. I think you just have to stick to the same old rules of looking for the best value over teams and generally only backing home sides where appropriate. We know this league contains a lot of goals in certain matchups and has a low ratio of away wins. This particular contest could produce a surprise though. Columbus Crew are -1 Asian handicap favourites but that feels a bit short against a potentially improved Chicago unit. The Fire have been appallingly bad in the last few seasons, even finishing rock bottom in each of the last two campaigns. But for once they’ve stuck with the same manager and realised that Rome can’t be built in one day. Chicago have added some very interesting players, not least midfielder Dax McCarty from New York Red Bulls, someone who will work tirelessly for them in the middle of the park.
Other interesting additions for the visitors include striker Nemanja Nikolics who had a fantastic strike rate in the Polish league, whilst the experienced Juninho helps them in the middle too. Let’s not forget the Fire already have speedster David Accam and Michael De Leeuw in the final third, so they shouldn’t lack for a goal or two. Having won all six preseason games and looking good, they could surprise a Columbus Crew side who were very poor last year. The biggest problem was at the back and they have a brand new defensive line for 2017. It might take them a while to settle down though which is a concern. Not too much has changed in their midfield and attack. Two key players for the Crew are playmaker Federico Higuain and striker Ola kamara. The latter is rated doubtful for this match and might have to start from the bench.
The two bets I like for this game are over 2.5 goals and Chicago Fire +1. The first is quite an obvious pick because both teams usually like to attack and have vulnerable defences. This should be a typical sort of MLS match which offers end to end football. Taking the Fire +1 is a more risky selection because generally backing away sides in this league is the way to the poorhouse. In my personal opinion there is no way that Columbus should be giving up a whole goal handicap here though. These two teams on paper look much more closely matched so I’m willing to strike whilst the Fire are still underrated. I wouldn’t put anyone off backing them straight up around the 5.00 mark either, they could look a massive price come full time here.
Asian Handicap Recommendation: Over 2.5 goals @ 1.70 & Chicago Fire +1 @ 1.68
Orlando City v New York City FC – Orlando City Stadium at 22:00 live on Sky Sports 2
These two franchises will always be compared. Whether it be by the media, the fans, or the clubs themselves, there definitely feels like a strong connection between Orlando and NYCFC despite the large distance between the two cities. They both entered the league together as new MLS clubs at the same time, and each is spearheaded by a well known star. That being Kaka in the case of Orlando and David Villa for NYCFC. Another interesting twist is that NYC’s original manager, Jason Kreis is now in charge of Orlando. It feels like both franchises are at different levels already though. Neither could be separated much in their first season with each doing a respectable job, albeit falling short of the playoffs. NYCFC really kicked on in 2016 by finishing second in the Eastern Conference, whilst Orlando languished down towards the bottom of the standings.
For me personally, it’s hard to see Orlando making much progress this year either. Kaka is top class at this level, but inevitably he’ll go down injured at some point and Orlando simply aren’t the same team without him, he’s their heartbeat. The Florida outfit have added one or two pieces during the offseason, but apart from Kyle Larin, who is an excellent young striker they don’t have anyone else who really stands out. The Franchise is going to build steadily, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Orlando have a brand new stadium for this season. Simply named ‘Orlando City Stadium, it has a capacity of 25,500 which is actually a downgrade on the previous venue used. However, it’s specifically designed for soccer and should generate a better atmosphere. The stadium will be opened ahead of this game so obviously it’s a big occasion for everyone associated with the club. This match is a complete sell out and there isn’t a spare seat to be had.
Soccer in the USA, and sport in general is an entertainment business. Fans like to be excited by what they watch which is one of the main reasons why new franchises are usually so good for having so many over 2.5 matches. For me, it’s an obvious pick in this game and can be backed as big as 1.75. I wouldn’t hesitate to take over 2.75 or even over 3 if the prices were good close to kick off. Both teams possess plenty of attacking firepower and very dodgy defences. Orlando aren’t helped by injuries to a couple of guys at the back either. The hosts are favourites on a -0.25 asian handicap line which is probably about fair. I’m not personally interested getting involved in that market because this match could go either way. But I think there will be at least three goals in this affair which is sure to be an end to end contest, hopefully full of chances.
Asian Handicap Recommendation: Over 2.5 goals @ 1.78
Prices correct at time of writing.
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