Toronto FC v Philadelphia Union
The Canadians snapped a five game winless streak by beating Chicago Fire 3-2 on Sunday in what was a thrilling match. Manager Greg Vanney said he wanted to take some momentum into the playoffs and they certainly achieved that.
Of course, the big difference for TFC recently has been the return of star man Sebastian Giovinco. He missed all of their matches during the aforementioned five game winless run and they badly missed his presence upfront. He is capable of of beating any side on his own and is a total class act.
Toronto fielded a full strength side at the weekend so there will be a strong sense of continuity heading into the playoffs. They could opt to line up in a 5-3-2 (wingbacks) formation again, but a more probable scenario is that midfielder Will Johnson returns and they opt for their more common 4-4-2 narrow diamond.
TFC have a good overall defensive record in 2016, but have only kept 1 clean sheet in their last 12 games. In recent months they’ve looked more their old usual attack minded self..
With the exception of RSL, no team enters the playoffs in worse form than the Union. For most of the season they punched above their weight, even looking like possible challengers to win the Eastern Conference in the middle of the summer. However, they’ve only won three times since early July and two of the teams they beat were Chicago & Columbus, who finished as the bottom sides in the east.
Philly have failed to win any of their last seven games heading into the playoffs, five of which ended in defeats. Quite simply, they have absolutely no momentum and whilst everyone now starts afresh in the playoffs, they would need to dramatically turn around their form to make a deep run.
The Union bench rested key players like Barnetta, Sapong & fellow starter Ilsinho at the weekend. All three of them had been carrying minor injuries. Centre back Joshua Yaro is ruled out which means the slow Kenny Tribbett will once again be the starter in defence.
Conclusion & Betting Analysis
Neither of these teams have ever won a playoff match, so history will be made at the end of the evening. Toronto aren’t setting the world on fire right now but they are clear favourites to win the game, around the 1.60 mark on a -0.5 Asian handicap. Philly are in terrible form and look a spent force. Historically, sides who enter the playoffs in this sort of form don’t last long. Of course, there is a lot of pressure on Toronto to deliver, but when you have proven experienced players like Michael Bradley, Altidore and Giovinco in your side, I have to believe they will do enough to get the job done.
Toronto have won 4 of the last 5 meetings between the two teams and I think it’s fair to say they have the wood on Philly. The most recent meeting between the sides was here at BMO Field in September which ended 1-1. But Giovinco didn’t play that day and he’s a massive player for TFC who should made a huge difference here.
I think Toronto will win the game comfortably, so taking them on a -0.75 Asian handicap makes sense. Over 2.75 is also worth taking due to the poor nature of both defences in recent weeks. There’s a slight doubt if Philly will score here, but even if they don’t the likes of Giovinco & company could cover this line on their own.
Asian Handicap Recommendations: Toronto FC -0.75 at 1.85 & Over 2.75 goals at 1.93
LA Galaxy v Real Salt Lake
The Galaxy knew that they were pretty much destined to finish third in the Western Conference for quite some time. They rounded out the season with some dull lower scoring contests, a couple of 1-0s and then a 0-0 against Dallas on Sunday.
Manager Bruce Arena was wise in resting most of his key players at the weekend. One of the big problems for Arena this season has been dealing with absences and injuries. Officially for this game, only attacker Gyasi Zardes is ruled out. The likes of Steven Gerrard, Robbie Keane & Giovani Dos Santos have all been dealing with knocks of late but now that the whole season is on the line, I would expect Arena to start his strongest possible XI. And when his best XI play well then few teams in the MLS can stop them.
The Galaxy are also known for being extremely formidable at the StubHub Centre. Only one team has beaten them here this season (Seattle) although a collection of draws have hindered them a bit. But in a playoff match the atmosphere will be mega intense and be a massive advantage for the Galaxy.
Real Salt Lake
Of all the teams in the Western Conference, RSL carry the least amount of momentum into the playoffs. They were excellent in the first half of the season but their campaign has badly tailed off, especially in recent times. They’ve only just limped into the postseason and failed to win any of their last seven games. The most worrying factor is scoring goals and a total of just two have been netted in their last 550 mins of action.
A niggling heel injury to striker Yura Movsisyan hasn’t helped their cause and the likes of Martinez, Morales & Plata, who were so great earlier in the season have all seen form go downhill.
RSL have lost 7 of their last 8 away games and have desperately struggled on the road in the second half of the season. A massive improvement needs to be shown if they are to progress to the next round of the playoffs. I would imagine their main tactic will be to sit back and frustrate Galaxy for as long as possible.
Right back Tony Beltran is rated doubtful because of a back injury and fellow defender Aaron Maund has been a casualty for the last two months and won’t feature either.
Conclusion & Betting Analysis
The Galaxy got knocked out of the playoffs at this same stage last year and there’s no way Bruce Arena is going to let that happen again. The difference a year on is that LA are actually hosting the game, and everyone knows how strong they are at this stadium. Another difference is that they are facing a woefully out of form RSL side who don’t look like they will cause the Galaxy too many problems.
The two teams have been involved in a couple of really high scoring contests this season, 5-2 and 3-3. But I expect to see a tighter game here. RSL will look to defend for long periods and might be able to hold out until after half time. But ultimately, the Galaxy’s extra class and likely persistence should prove crucial in the end. They have individual players who can come up with a moment of magic if needed, but in the end I think we will see a comfortable home win.
The simple fact is RSL aren’t playing well enough right now and I think backing the Galaxy on a -0.75 Asian handicap looks like best betting option. Something like a 2-0 or 3-0 win could be on the cards.
Asian Handicap Recommendation: LA Galaxy -0.75 at 2.04
Prices correct at time of writing.
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