Atlanta United v New York Red Bulls

The really crunch matches in the MLS playoffs now begin and the biggest is surely at the Mercedes Benz Arena where Atlanta take on New York Red Bulls. Whoever comes through this two legged tie will be hosting the ‘one off’ MLS Cup final in a couple of weeks because both are seeded higher than their respective Western Conference opponents. Having that sort of advantage in the final could be potentially massive so the dangling carrot is really big here. From Atlanta’s point of view there is also a small matter of revenge. The Red Bulls pipped them to the Supporters Shield this season on the last game of the campaign. They won’t care for that if they go on and beat them here and eventually lift the cup though. A first leg lead will be very important due to the Red Bulls being so strong at their own arena.

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Atlanta themselves also had a very good home record during the regular season (11-4-2). One of the few sides to beat them here was the Red Bulls though and since United joined MLS it’s definitely the team from the Big Apple who hold the edge over them, winning 3 out of 4 meetings. It seems that Gerardo Martino can’t seem to find the right formula to beat this team, something which must be concerning to fans ahead of the weekend. There are no hugely significant injuries or suspensions for either outfit. Most absences have been long term casualties or to bench type players who wouldn’t be guaranteed starters anyway. From a Red Bull point of view, they will have to make sure they play better than they did against Columbus Crew the other week. Historically, this is a team that has always cracked at some point in the playoffs.

The Red Bulls’ past problems at this stage of the postseason is one of the reasons I fancy Atlanta to win the first leg. But there are some other factors which point me in their direction as well. Firstly, I consider them the better team overall. I respect the Bulls but if United play to their best then nobody can match them in MLS. They know the vital importance of winning the first leg because it will be extremely difficult for them in New York. Conversely, the visitors know they can lose here and still turn things around in the second leg, just like they did against Columbus in the previous round. Losing by just one goal wouldn’t actually be a bad result for them here, especially if they bagged an away goal. The only negative for me is the past head-to-head record, but Martino is a quality coach and you would think he has devised a proper plan to beat New York. The hosts can be backed on a -0.75 Asian Handicap around the 2.05 mark and this is good enough for me. I expect Atlanta to deliver one of their best performances of the season and really show their true class.

Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: Atlanta United -0.75 at 2.070

Portland Timbers v Sporting Kansas City

The Western Conference final has all the makings of being a tremendous contest over the two legs. If feels like the type of fixture that could go all the way to extra time, or even penalties. This happened when these sides met in 2015, in which the Timbers prevailed and eventually went on to lift the MLS Cup. It has to be said that both teams head into this tie with plenty of momentum. Portland beat their bitter rivals Seattle on penalties in the last round whilst SKC were given an almighty fright by Real Salt Lake, but eventually came through on aggregate. There really isn’t much to choose between either side at the moment but I think the Timbers will realise the importance of winning the home leg. Their away form has been patchy this year and I definitely see SKC taking victory next weekend at Children’s Mercy Park. Their aim will be to avoid defeat and keep things tight. They have the players and the sort of coach who could make that happen so I’m not convinced this will be a particularly open contest.

Portland had the best home record in the whole Western Conference this season (11-4-2) and Providence Park became a fortress again. To be honest, it’s always been a tough venue for any opposing team to travel to. The stands are packed out with fans, most of them complete sellouts and it can be a very intimidating place. Already in the playoffs this year, Portland have prevailed in crunch matches against both Dallas and Seattle, so we know they can get the job done here. It’s a really interesting matchup because SKC have such a strong away record, winning 8 times on the road which is an excellent return. The regular season meeting between the two sides at this venue ended 0-0 and something similar would probably delight SKC.

I think this is a much tougher match to bet on and not an awful lot stands out. I wouldn’t recommend going in hard on anything here but I do lean towards Portland and Under 2.5 goals. They know they really need to take a lead into next week’s match otherwise, that could be the end of their hopes gone and that extra bit of desire could be crucial. In these two legged affairs, the away side know they can almost afford a defeat initially and losing by a small margin, especially if an away goal has been scored is always acceptable. I’ve seen many situations in the past where a home team is leading 2-1 with 10 mins left and both outfits are satisfied so just let things peter out. Something similar wouldn’t surprise me again here so it leads me to believe the best bet for the game is Portland Timbers on a DNB Asian Handicap. I think it’s important to take this handicap rather than -0.25, because the risk of a draw is actually quite high. This isn’t a pick to get mega excited about but Portland can usually be relied upon to deliver in front of their own fans.

Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: Portland Timbers DNB at 1.820

Preview by: @meatmansoccer.

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