Columbus Crew v Toronto FC

Both teams are lucky to still be in these playoffs after producing some terrible tactics in their respective second legs of the previous round. Columbus Crew had a 4-1 advantage to take to NYCFC, but played solely on the back foot and were fortunate to only lose 2-0. They were a couple of posts away from falling 3-0 down, which probably would have been curtains. Of course, one can’t forget how good they were in the first leg of that tie though and t hey will more than fancy their chances here facing opponents who are missing arguably their two best players. The Crew have been strong at home all season and must take confidence how good they were against NYC last time out at this stadium.

Toronto meanwhile, also produced a very good first leg performance but stuttered holding onto their 2-1 advantage against the Red Bulls. It was impressive how they took the game to their opponents in the Big Apple, but bizarrely they totally went into their shell after that. Some of the tactics on the show were really poor and it was surprising how nervous Greg Varney’s men were. There is absolutely no doubt that TFC ‘got away with one’ in that contest. Whether they learn from those mistakes remain to be seen, but they have some serious problems approaching this contest. Key strike duo Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore are both suspended, whilst center-back Drew Moor is doubtful due to injury.

With Toronto missing their vital frontmen, it would make sense for them to try and just stay in the contest ahead of the second leg at BMO Field. TFC have the capability to defend strongly, and I’d expect them to be quite defensively minded in a 5-3-2 formation here. They would love an away goal and their best chance might be on the break, but realistically if you offered them a 0-0 draw or even a 0-1 loss they would probably accept it. Columbus knows their time to strike is now. They need to build themselves a first leg advantage before what will probably be an onslaught of pressure in Canada next week. I’m happy to back the Crew on a -0.5 Asian Handicap at a decent odds-against price. I have a strange feeling that things are starting to fall into place for Columbus in these playoffs. They had an unexpected penalty shootout win at Atlanta, shocked everyone by blowing out NYC in the first leg, then got away with murder in the return fixture. Luck is again on their side here with Toronto missing key players, and I think they can take advantage.

Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: Columbus Crew -0.5 at 2.070

Houston Dynamo v Seattle Sounders

No team has managed to defend the MLS Cup since LA Galaxy in 2012, but Seattle still has the opportunity this season. They will first have to get past Houston in two legs, something you would back them to do with their wealth of playoff experience. However, they know they’ll be on the road again for the final, perhaps in a repeat of last year’s fixture against Toronto. I’m not entirely sure how Seattle has made it this far again because they haven’t been as good this season. But once again, a timely run at the end of the year has been crucial. They’ve kept a lot of clean sheets in the last couple of months and once again I think they’ll be targeting that here in the first leg. That tactic worked well for them at Vancouver in the last round and they will happily back themselves to win on home soil next week.

Houston meanwhile, continues to surprise everyone in these post-season playoffs. I don’t think anyone expected them to get this far and I personally think they are the weakest team left in the competition. Their route to this stage has been somewhat fortunate, seeing off SKC after extra time, and then beating up a depleted injury-plagued Portland Timbers. Houston has drawn both of their two home playoff matches 0-0 inside 90 mins, and part of that has to come down to the pitch here at BBVA Compass Stadium, which has been very poor of late. There has been some talk that a big effort will be made to improve it, but at this stage of the season, I’m not personally convinced. It will probably hinder the technical players on show, and both teams are known for having individuals who like to pass it on the deck.

I think this will be a very tight first leg and neither team will want to lose. My personal belief is that Houston needs to take some sort of advantage back to Seattle, but they might think just avoiding defeat could be a good result, especially another 0-0. Seattle for their part would gladly accept this as well. They are so strong at CenturyLink field in front of their own fans that any draw or even a close defeat would put them favorites heading into the second leg. Houston is Asian Handicap favorites between a -0.25 and DNB handicap, but I actually think it’s the visitors who have a better chance of winning. If I had to stick my neck out I would back the Sounders +0.25. However, my preferred bet is under 2.25 goals. I just don’t see how this match explodes at all and this is a genuine 0-0 contender. Nobody is going to want to lose and even if a goal is scored, I’m not convinced the opposition will open themselves up and try to respond until the second leg.

Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: Under 2.25 goals at 2.020

By @Meatmansoccer

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