If New Jersey’s expanded sports betting options have a hometown tilt to them, Major League Soccer might be an early beneficiary.
As the MLS season launches this weekend, SugarHouse lists the New York Red Bulls as the favorite to lift MLS Cup at +450, just ahead of defending champion Atlanta United, which opens at +550.
Sports betting is becoming more prevalent nationwide (albeit with wild state-by-state variances in availability) in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling last year to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. The question of whether legal sports betting can help boost MLS’ popularity might well depend somewhat on which teams are hot.
The Red Bulls are one example. Another is just down the road in Pennsylvania, which now has sportsbooks taking action. The Philadelphia Union has been a pretty middling club in its first nine seasons, but it could draw enough action to boost its profile, at least within the city’s crowded sports scene.
The Red Bulls, based in Harrison, N.J., are a founding member and flagship franchise for MLS, but in 23 seasons they have never won a league title.
Bradley Wright-Phillips, who has led the Red Bulls in goals each of the past five seasons, returns and shows no signs of slowing at age 33. He was third in the league in 2018 with 20 goals and Daniel Royer chipped in 11.
New York was second in the Eastern Conference in scoring last season with 62 goals and won the Supporters’ Shield as the best regular-season team for the third time in six years. The club – once home to the likes of Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill and Juan Pablo Angel – did not make any splashy signings in the offseason.
Atlanta United won MLS Cup in just their second season in 2018, lighting up the league with a young team and an average attendance of 53,002 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The two Los Angeles teams are listed next on the SugarHouse odds board, the Galaxy at +600 and the second-year LAFC at +700. The Red Bulls’ cross-Hudson River rival, NYCFC, is fifth at +900.
The league’s 24th season gets underway this weekend with 24 teams, as expansion club FC Cincinnati joins. All teams are in action this weekend, with 10 games Saturday and two Sunday. Having an even number of teams allows MLS to ditch the clunky bye weeks it had last season with 23 teams.
The best matchup of the weekend might be the last one, with Sporting Kansas City visiting LAFC on Sunday night.
The Seattle Sounders will begin life without Clint Dempsey, the MLS and U.S. national team stalwart who retired after last season. And Osvaldo Alonso, who had been with the team since it joined MLS, has signed with Minnesota United.
The defending Western Conference champion Portland Timbers have brought in defender Jorge Moreira on loan from Argentine club River Plate after parting with longtime defender Liam Ridgewell in the offseason.
The Columbus Crew finally have a stable situation after the looming threat of relocation to Austin, Texas, finally dissipated. Jimmy Haslam, who owns the Cleveland Browns, is part of the Crew’s new ownership group. Former Timbers MLS Cup winner Caleb Porter returns to Ohio, where he won an NCAA championship as the coach of Akron, to lead Columbus.