Dave Farrar predicts Atlanta United will fade away against the New York Red Bulls, while Sporting KC continue their march in Portland...
“Atlanta were the best team in the League for much of the season, but faded towards the end of the campaign, and the Red Bulls have the look of a team that has timed their run perfectly.”
Red Bulls raring to go in Atlanta
Atlanta United v New York Red Bulls
Live on Sky Sports Football
So we know now that the 2018 MLS Cup will be played in either Atlanta or New Jersey, after the top two teams in MLS this season made it through to a hotly anticipated Conference Final.
The Red Bulls were impressive in the way that they dismantled the Columbus Crew in the second leg of their semi-final, dealing with the pressure of losing the first leg but they never looked like they were in any real danger. They're my pick to make it through to the big one.
Atlanta were the best team in the league for much of the season but faded towards the end of the campaign and the Red Bulls have the look of a team that has timed their run perfectly. Their coach, Chris Armas, has talked a lot about the belief that is currently coursing through his squad, and they play like a team that doesn't expect to be beaten. They have, I think, too much willpower for Atlanta.
Tata Martino's side is full of talent and isn't without a chance, but twice already this season the Red Bulls have managed them perfectly. Winning here at Mercedes Benz Stadium in May and then again in what turned out to be the Supporters Shield decider on the penultimate day of the season.
The Red Bulls have played Atlanta four times in their history and have won three of those, drawing the other game, but because of their poor road form, it means that we can back them at [4.6] to win this first leg. That seems absurdly big however given that a draw would suit them, we may not see them pushing for a win. The best way to supports Armas' men is to back them with a goal start on the Asian Handicap at [2.2].
Full steam ahead for Sporting
Portland Timbers v Sporting KC
Live on Sky Sports Football
Even though they're bound to be away from home should they make MLS Cup, I've long had a feeling that Sporting KC will end this 2018 season as champions, and they certainly have a great chance of reaching the season finale as they play a Portland side to whom they're superior in almost every aspect.
The Timbers have Diego Valeri, but SKC have the edge all over the field, and if they can keep their nerve I expect them to make the second leg of this Conference Final a fairly simple task. They're trading at [3.1] to win this first leg, and I think that we should take advantage.
I know that historical form isn't necessarily relevant in these play off games, but SKC are unbeaten in their last four games against the Timbers and that's encouraging. A stronger case can be made from the two teams' recent form.
Portland took advantage of a lacklustre Dallas team and then a similar performance from Seattle but they didn't play particularly well in those three games, while Kansas City were barely stretched by Real Salt Lake and must be fresher, having avoided the knockout Round.
Peter Vermes' team have lost only twice since the start of August, and there was always a sense that they had timed their run to the end of the season perfectly. In contrast, Portland have lost four of their last ten and don't look convincing. They're fortunate to have got this far, but they're up against the best team in the West and I think it's a step too far for them. SKC to reach MLS Cup, and do so convincingly.
P/L 2018 Post Season
Staked: 11 Points
Returned: 12.3 Points
P/L: + 1.3 points
P/L 2018 Regular Season
Staked: 96 points
Returned: 116.49 points
P/L +20.49 points
Back NYRB +1 on Asian Handicap vs Atlanta United @ [2.2]
Back Sporting KC to beat Portland Timbers @ [3.1]