Major League Soccer does friendlies a little differently. Unlike their European counterparts, MLS sides often play their highest profile friendlies slap bang in the middle of their domestic campaigns. These friendlies can be a useful indicator of how a team is doing, and perhaps where they’ll end up at the business end of the season.
But before we get into that, let’s take a look at the current outrights for the MLS 2024 campaign.
Outright betting on MLS
For those unfamiliar with MLS outright markets, you are spoilt for choice relative to European leagues. Stateside, you can back a team to just get to the playoffs, or win their respective conference, rather than just lift the MLS Cup.
There is also a lively market around the winner of the American equivalent of the Player of the Season: the ‘MVP’ award (most valuable player). This individual accolade is considerably more prestigious in the USA.
Inter Miami CF to win the MLS Cup – 3/1
The club with comfortably the best chance of lifting the MLS Cup, according to the bookmakers, is Inter Miami. And it is very easy to see why.
Having arguably the greatest player to have ever played the sport is always a good start. But it’s even better when he brings his friends. Lionel Messi’s magnetism, as well as drawing crowds, has also brought Barcelona legends Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Luis Suarez and even former manager Gerardo Martino to Florida.
Quite simply, Inter Miami have the most quality in the league, so are natural favourites.
Inter Miami CF to win the Eastern Conference – 11/8
Inter Miami also have vanishingly short odds to win the Eastern Conference. Though they will surely face stiff competition from last season’s winners FC Cincinnati, as well as Floridian rivals Orlando City, Messi’s side are head and shoulders above the rest of the sides in terms of sheer quality.
Los Angeles FC to win the Western Conference – 3/1
Travelling to the west coast, bookmakers are backing Los Angeles FC to return to the summit of the Western Conference. The Black and Gold won the Western Conference in 2022, but slipped to third in 2023.
LAFC will be boosted by the blockbuster signing of Hugo Lloris, and will be hoping Denis Bouanga can repeat his goalscoring exploits. The Gabon international was top-scorer last season.
Lionel Messi to be MLS top scorer 2024 – 2/1*
Bouanga will have quite the competitor this season, however. Lionel Messi. The 36-year-old has scored an eye-watering 497 career goals in league play alone.
Messi will be surrounded by his supporting cast of Busquets, Alba and Suarez, all of whom know exactly how the little Argentine likes his passes.
* indicates projected odds
Can friendly games impact outright betting on MLS?
As mentioned above, it is not uncommon for MLS sides to play high-profile friendlies against European giants on tour in the USA during their pre-season. Here, we’ll take a look at some recent examples of MLS sides taking on foreign foes and see how these games impacted their fortunes later in the campaign.
But perhaps the biggest friendly this summer will be when the All-Stars, who will surely boast Lionel Messi this year, take on 2024’s opponents.
Orlando City vs Arsenal
Halfway through the MLS 2022 season, Orlando City welcomed Arsenal to Florida as part of the Gunners’ pre-season tour of the United States. Arsenal ran out 3-1 winners, thanks to goals from Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Martinelli and Reiss Nelson, though Facundo Torres did briefly equalise for the hosts.
The game did seem to disrupt Orlando’s flow, and preceded one of their poorest runs of form of 2022, where they lost three out of the next four games. The Floridians did manage to sneak into the seventh playoff spot, however, just two points ahead of Columbus Crew.
LAFC vs Club América
A few weeks after Orlando took on Arsenal, LAFC faced off with Club América in the 2022 Leagues Cup final. Despite the best efforts of superstars Carlos Vela and Gareth Bale, the game finished 0-0 after extra time. And even though the pair both converted their spot-kicks, the Californian side lost 6-5 on penalties
This game was LAFC’s only defeat in a seven-game run that included six wins as they romped to winning the 2022 Western Conference.
New York Red Bulls vs Barcelona
Also in 2022, New York Red Bulls hosted Barcelona, but were defeated 2-0, thanks to goals from then new-signing Robert Lewandowski and Ousmane Dembele.
The defeat seemed to have very little impact on the Red Bulls’ fortunes however. They had lost two out of three before this intercontinental clash, and lost two out of three afterwards.