Beginner's Guide to MLS Betting
There are currently five professional soccer leagues in the United States, but Major League Soccer (MLS) is by far the most popular. It's the highest standard of soccer in North America and as such, provides the sport's largest betting market in the country and unsurprisingly draws the biggest crowds too.
Helping it's cause are the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimović, David Beckham and Thierry Henry, who are just a few of the global superstars gracing American soil in recent years. As a result, the MLS has become notorious for soccer legends looking to continue their legacy beyond Europe and is quickly becoming one of the most entertaining leagues in the world.
A Brief Overview of the MLS
Major League Soccer is brand new to the scene on a global scale - founded only in 1993 as part of the United States' bid to host the 1993 FIFA World Cup. For comparison, the first form of the UK's Premier League was founded way back in 1888.
After some financial and operational struggles early on - with the MLS dropping two teams and losing millions by 2002 - they have seen a much more profitable journey in recent years. A key component to this has been The Designated Player Rule - now coined 'The Beckham Rule' - which allowed teams to sign up to 3 players outside of their salary cap. This began an era of world renowned soccer stars bolstering the MLS economy with moves from top-tier teams like Real Madrid and Barcelona.
The MLS now comprises 28 teams - 3 in Canada and 25 the US - and has plans to expand to 29 teams by 2023. Average attendance for each game ranges in the area of 20,000 fans, which ranked the league 7th in the world by 2013.
The yearly seasons have a similar structure to other US sports like the NFL and MLB, with a regular season starting in February and tournament-style postseason crowning a victor in early December. Each team plays a total of 34 games in the regular season, where the team with the best-record receives the Supporters Shield. 14 teams make the postseason and battle it out to win the MLS Cup, where the last team standing in the Eastern Conference faces off against their counterpart in the Western Conference.
- Chalk: The favoured team in a given match-up.
- Dog: Short for 'underdog' (the least likely team to win).
- Push: When your bet is refunded.
- Money Line: Simply betting on who will be the winning team, regardless of points.
- Over/Under: The odds makers list the potential total scores for bets over or under that amount (also known as totals).
- Point Spreads: A bet on the potential difference between the score of two teams.
American Odds Explained
American soccer odds are displayed with either a minus (-) sign or a positive or plus (+) sign. The odds for the favourites will always display the minus sign and represent how much the bettor needs to stake to win $100. Meanwhile, the odds for underdogs are accompanied by a positive (+) sign, indicating the amount won for every $100 staked.
On most betting sites users can change the odds style to decimal or fractional, which may be easier to read, but American odds will be the default for users in the United States.
A money line wager is by far the simplest betting type. To make a money line wager, you must simply pick the team to win the game. Of course in an MLS match, the final result could also be a draw, so for MLS betting odds you'll also see odds for a draw in the money line. It may look something like this:
The New York Red Bulls offer means that if you were to bet $125, you’d win $100 with a total payout of $225. If you were to bet $100 on Los Angeles instead, you receive a payout of $330, returning your original $100 as well as your winnings of $230. Similarly, if you bet $100 on the draw, you would win $360.
Also referred to as 'Totals' wagering, Over/Under bets refer to wagers on the total number of goals scored by both clubs in a given game. Totals will give bettors a range of betting options for various total goals predictions, each with their own odds.
Bearing in mind that the average total goals scored in soccer games is generally 2.0 goals, a bet on over 1.5 goals for example, will often have the lowest payout. Comparatively, betting on over 5 goals for example, will likely have much higher odds and therefore a much larger payout.
A point spread represents the difference in goals scored between the two teams in a given game. In the MLS, point spreads tend to be very low compared to the NFL for example, as score lines tend to be much closer. The aim of a point spread bet is simple: to bet on whether a team will win or lose by a certain number of goals.
For a point spread bet, the oddsmakers give the underdog an advantage before the match begins to make them a more attractive bet to the fans and as such, the favourites are put at a disadvantage. This encourages bettors to go for more risky wagers.
In a matchup between the Seattle Sounders and Nashville. The Sounders are the favourites and have a spread of -2.5. Choosing this bet would be to wager that Seattle will win by over 2.5 goals (3 or more). The underdogs, Nashville, have a spread of +2.5 and taking this bet would be to wager that they will lose by 3 or more goals.
A prop bet is simply a bet on whether a certain event will or will not happen during a game. There's usually a wide variety of prop bets available and some go down to the most miniscule detail. Here are a few examples:
- Will Player X score a goal?
- How many corners will be taken by team Y?
- How many yellow and/or red cards will be given?
- How many goals will be scored in the second half?
Most online sportsbooks will offer odds on events that may happen weeks or even months later - these are called Futures. MLS futures odds tend to be given for many different events, such as:
- Which player will win MVP?
- Which team will win the MLS Cup?
- Which team will win the Supporters Shield?
- Who will win the Golden Boot?
Futures bets usually offer a greater payout when the event comes to fruition, especially if you're early to the market. But this unfortunately creates a downside in return - your money will be tied up for an extended period of time, until the event occurs and you either win or lose.
Most oddsmakers will offer live sports bets for ongoing events, but an important thing to note is that these odds will consistently change throughout the game as different factors affect the bet's outcome. There tends to be live betting markets available for Point Spreads, Money Lines, Over/Under and Prop Bets.
A parlay bet combines multiple different wagers onto one bet slip to generate much greater odds. This is most commonly used to pool together straight-up bets, like Money Lines, Spreads and Totals. It's a much better way to make a larger, more profitable wager on events you may already have decided to bet on separately. Although, the risk is of course much higher - as, if one of your bets in the parlay fails to win, the entire parlay loses.