Atlanta United v New York City FC
Atlanta United delivered a masterclass tactical performance in the first leg by registering a 1-0 victory at Yankee Stadium. That result puts them firmly in the driving seat ahead of this clash down in Georgia. Most people seem to perceive United as an attacking juggernaut and with players like Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron in their ranks that line of thought is very much understandable. But I have long said that this side is much better defensively than anyone gives them credit for and they are lead by an astute tactician in Gerardo Martino. The ex Barcelona boss is leaving the club at the end of the season, seemingly to take over the Mexico National team position. He will be desperate to leave on a high. Atlanta missed out on the Supporters Shield but they are deserving favourites to lift the MLS Cup.
The big dangling carrot for Atlanta is that they know they would host an MLS Cup final, as long as they can come through these Eastern Conference playoffs. Facing the New York Red Bulls over two legs in the next round won’t be easy but you would still be a brave man to bet against them. I would personally be shocked if New York City FC managed to turn this one around. They generally have an awful record in the playoffs and have always historically been outplayed by higher class teams. Atlanta beat them in nearly all areas and as long as they can nullify star talent like David Villa then there won’t be any problems. NYC will, of course, go down fighting, but I suspect it will all be in vain.
At some point here the visitors will probably get desperate and leave themselves very vulnerable. So although they don’t ‘have’ to win this match then I still see Atlanta winning on the night. They are the higher class team and if they really have to put their foot down and get into gear, I don’t think there’s any doubt they are capable of doing that at any time. I much prefer to bet on teams who absolutely need to win in this scenario, but overall I think backing the hosts makes some sense due to the fact that NYC will probably self-explode. It will likely be the same old story for the team from the big apple and I sadly suspect their miserable playoff record looks set to continue.
Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: Atlanta United -0.75 at 1.950
New York Red Bulls v Columbus Crew
It seems like every time the playoffs come around, something always goes wrong for the New York Red Bulls. They did brilliantly to wrestle the Supporters Shield off Atlanta United the previous weekend but then produced a very lacklustre display in the first leg of this matchup. Everything was massively in the Red Bulls favour ahead of the first leg. They had a complete week of rest as opposed to the Crew, who had to sweat it out over a penalty shootout victory against DC United. That in itself was a great break for the Red Bulls because the Crew on paper were in theory much the weaker and less in-form side than DCU. Yet somehow it all went wrong and they allowed Columbus to take a deserved 1-0 win from the first leg.
All is not lost of course and in some ways it might do the Red Bulls some good to have to come from behind. But I feel like it was a blow to lose that game and also bad for them that they didn’t even manage to score a vital away goal. If the Crew can to score this weekend then New York would need to win the tie by at least a two-goal margin. That isn’t something impossible of course but it does make life harder. Columbus will rely on their defence which has kept a good number of clean sheets this season. They work well as a unit and in Zach Steffen, probably have the best goalkeeper in the whole of MLS. He made a miraculous save right at the end of the match last week and that could ultimately prove to be crucial.
Despite all this, you really have to fancy the Red Bulls to win this match. They had an amazingly good 14-1-2 record at home in the regular season and they made this place a total fortress. One positive for the Crew is that they were one of the few teams who actually managed to win here back in July and their general recent record vs the Bulls is pretty good. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Columbus go through by virtue of away goals or if this tie headed to extra time with an exact 1-0 New York victory. You can back them on a -0.75 Asian Handicap and this is good enough for me. A half win on this bet has quite a strong chance of landing, although if the Red Bulls play to their best then they could win comfortably.
Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: New York Red Bulls -0.75 at 1.940
Preview by: @meatmansoccer.