This is not your father’s Major League Soccer. The United States’ preeminent soccer league has expanded to 29 clubs, boasts a higher attendance average than the NBA, kicked off a billion-dollar rights deal with Apple this season, and recently announced that Lionel Messi has signed with Inter Miami.
According to Forbes, the average valuation of an MLS club in 2023 is $579 million, up 85% from $313 million in 2019. The publication valued Los Angeles FC at $1 billion, a first for MLS organizations, although more will inevitably achieve that distinction soon.
A July 4 match between LAFC and LA Galaxy at the Rose Bowl set a new record for MLS attendance with 82,110 fans on hand, and the league is on pace to hit nearly 11 million total attendees in the 2023 season. If you haven’t given American soccer a chance until now, this is as good a time as any to do so.
Teams have around 14 of their 34 matches left before the playoffs begin in October, where seven clubs from each conference earn a chance to play for the MLS Cup. We’ve recapped what you need to know from the 2022-23 seasons to make an informed wager on this season’s MLS Cup and close out the piece with our best bets.
The top team in each conference stormed through the playoff bracket to face off in the 2022 MLS Cup Final. LAFC represented the West in their home stadium against the Eastern champion Philadelphia Union.
Both finished the 34-match regular season with 67 points, though LAFC captured the Supporter’s Shield and home-field advantage thanks to winning the tiebreaker of most regular season wins.
The championship match was level at two goals after 90 minutes before each side scored in injury time of the extra period. A shootout was necessary to determine a champion for the sixth time in MLS history, according to Sports Illustrated.
Philadelphia went scoreless in three attempts, while LAFC converted three of their four shots to take the shootout and the MLS Cup after a memorable match.
LAFC and Philadelphia began the season as heavy favorites to repeat their 2022 success and were the only clubs offered at shorter than +700 odds in mid-February. The reigning champs are currently within three points of the conference lead out West, while the Union are fifth in an Eastern Conference featuring seven of MLS's top ten teams.
FC Cincinnati have opened a six-point margin atop the East and lead MLS in wins (13) while owning the fewest defeats (2) through 20 matches. Cincy’s impressive form in 2023 has shrunk their odds to the point where the 2019 expansion club is narrowly favored to win the MLS Cup ahead of LAFC and Philadelphia.
Nashville SC and New England Revolution are the clubs most effectively chasing Cincinnati in the East. The oddsmakers say both are in the top five among MLS Cup contenders. Nashville’s Hany Mukhtar, the 2022 MLS MVP and Golden Boot winner, leads the league in finding the back of the net again with 13 goals in 21 matches.
The latest addition to the MLS not named Messi is St. Louis City SC, the 2023 expansion club who have announced themselves by cruising to the top of the Western Conference. They still lead domestic powerhouses Seattle Sounders and LAFC in a tightly packed table after beginning the season on a five-match win streak.
American soccer is infamous for being a retirement gig for world-renowned players in the twilight of their careers. Pelé was an early example of this in the 1970s when he played for the New York Cosmos from 1975-77 at the tail end of an illustrious run.
More recent superstars like David Beckham, Thierry Henry, and Zlatan Ibrahimović have all dabbled in the United States for multiple seasons following European dominance with some of the world’s top clubs.
None of those scenarios compare to the news that shook the global soccer community in June: Lionel Messi, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner and 2022 World Cup champion, is coming to Miami.
The 36-year-old icon is arguably the greatest of all time in his sport and is still a dominant player, having led his native Argentina to World Cup glory in 2022 and scoring 21 goals in 41 matches for Paris Saint-Germain this season.
His impact was felt immediately, although Messi reportedly won’t play his first match for the club until July 21. Inter Miami, the Eastern Conference basement dwellers with 17 points in 20 matches, saw their MLS Cup odds move from +17500 to +1800 in mid-June.
They have also replaced head coach Phil Neville with Tata Martino, Messi’s former manager at Barcelona and Argentina, signed longtime teammate Sergio Busquets, and are pursuing other targets in the transfer market to surround Messi with.
Names being tossed around in early July include another Barcelona running mate, Jordi Alba, and former Premier League standout Jesse Lingard, who CBS Sports reported was training with the team on July 2.
The Herons are well behind the pace to make a playoff appearance in 2023 but should have 12 matches with Messi in the starting eleven to make up ground. Their current odds rest at +3000.
Need help betting this year's MLS Cup? We've got you covered! After digging into all of the numbers, we're rolling with the following 2 best bets to get things started.
The Union have been a top-three Eastern Conference team for five seasons, including two regular-season conference championships and the Supporter’s Shield for the league’s best record in 2020.
The East is top-heavy at the moment, but we place more stock in the Union’s recent playoff experience and success than teams who may be unable to make the necessary adjustments in a single-elimination format.
They could be bound for another rematch with LAFC, who defeated the Union in the 2023 CONCACAF Champions League semifinals in addition to last year’s MLS Cup Final.
Bruce Arena’s squad has dropped just three of their first 20 matches after a difficult 2022 season and is well-positioned to qualify for the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Revolution haven’t lost a match in league play since May 20 and just ended the home winning streak of the conference leaders, FC Cincinnati, with a 2-2 draw on July 1.
Winning their first MLS Cup would be a long-awaited achievement for one of the original ten MLS clubs. While they’ll have a difficult path, this could be the year for the Revs.