Soccer Odds and Betting on MLS

MLS Soccer Odds & Betting

Major League Soccer, or MLS as it is popularly known, has progressively made its way into mainstream American sports culture. And when that happens, fans will want to increase their entertainment by betting on the games.

This primer explains everything you need to know about soccer odds and betting on MLS matches. Learn about the types of betting markets and how to read the odds.

New York City FC celebrates Eastern Conference Championship

What is MLS?

MLS is the top tier of men’s professional soccer in the United States and turned 25 years old in 2021. It follows a conference system in which 28 teams face off in the regular season (of which three are Canadian) before the MLS Cup playoffs, and the MLS Cup final rounds it off.

What is MLS Format?

It isn’t the easiest schedule to follow at first, but this outlines how things play out in a typical MLS season. 

League Stage and Supporters’ Shield

The league stage is how MLS seasons kick off, with 14 teams each in the Eastern and Western conferences, divided geographically. Each team plays the other teams in its conference twice - home and away - and once each against eight teams from the other conference.

This stage provides two key contributions to the overall season; the Supporters’ Shield champion and the 14 teams who make it to the playoffs.

The Shield is awarded to the team that picks up the most points overall, across the two conferences, in the league’s combined leaderboard. This team will also be part of the 14 that make it to the playoffs, a combination of the top seven teams in each conference. Easy enough, right?

MLS Playoffs

The MLS playoffs are where teams compete for the big one, the MLS Cup. It is a straight knockout stage, where teams simply have to win every game to go on and lift the trophy. The MLS Cup is considered the primary honor in the United States soccer season, and LA Galaxy are the most successful team on this count, while Columbus Crew is the only side from Ohio to have ever won it.

So, MLS has Two Championships?

Pretty much! This system of awarding a championship before the main title (the MLS Cup) is unique to American soccer. LA Galaxy and DC United are the most successful teams as far as the Shield goes; Columbus Crew has won the Shield on three occasions.

Understanding Soccer Odds and Betting on MLS

Now that you know how the league works, you’re one step closer to preparing your bet slip and raking in the rewards. But first, you must understand the different odds formats.

American odds, also called moneyline odds, are what you’ll encounter most commonly. These odds are whole numbers that are prefixed with either a positive or a negative symbol. If the odds are negative, the number denotes how much you would have to wager to win $100. If the odds are positive, they reflect how much you would win if you wagered $100. The positives are underdogs; the negatives are favorites.

For instance, if Columbus Crew is -300 to beat FC Toronto, this means a stake of $300 would win you $100 if the Crew won, or $30 would win you $10, and so on. On the other hand, if FC Cincinnati is +300 to beat Philadelphia Union, you would win $300 on a successful $100 bet.

Decimal odds, as the name suggests, are presented in decimal format. The easiest way to understand these odds is to simply multiply your staked amount by the decimal odds to see what your total payout would be. The decimal odds equivalent of the Columbus Crew (-300) example from above would be 1.33; a $300 stake multiplied by 1.33 would pay out $400, which is a $100 profit. 

Fractional odds are presented as fractions and also co-relate to the other formats. In the simplest terms, they are a ratio of the profit to the stake. The numerator denotes the reward, and the denominator represents the stake. So, ⅓ odds on Columbus Crew to beat FC Toronto would win you a dollar for every three you bet, or $100 for every $300, and so on. 

Types of MLS Betting

You now know how the soccer odds work, who the most successful teams are, and the path the teams take to go on and win the MLS Cup. Let’s dig straight into the types of bets you can place on MLS.

Match bets

Match result or three-way moneyline bet: This is the most common type of soccer odds and betting on MLS. You are simply betting on which team you think will win the match, although there is a slight variation for soccer matches called a three-way moneyline bet, which also allows you to bet on a tie. In most cases with this type of bet, you bet on the result at the end of regulation time. 

Draw no bet: This bet is something of a safety net if you think an underdog team has a great chance of beating a favorite. While you could just back the underdog to win in a moneyline bet (which will offer greater odds), this option secures your stake in case the match ends in a draw. For instance, if FC Cincinnati is +800 to beat New York City FC, your only chance at a profit is if they win. If they’re +325 on the Draw No Bet, however, you have assured no losses if they manage to just not lose the game - which is often a big result in the case of underdog teams.

Both teams to score: This one is straightforward - you bet on whether both teams will score in the match. You’ll most commonly see this listed in abbreviated form as BTTS.

Double chance: This type of bet is loosely a combination of the first two bets described above - you bet on a team to either win or draw the game. It stands to reason that this bet will come with significantly lower odds since it is a safer bet. Some sportsbooks will provide this bet in combination with the BTTS bet.

MLS Prop Bets

Prop bets are short for proposition bets and will sometimes be referred to as specials. These bets are typically granular and don’t affect the game’s result directly. They deal with isolated parts of the game. For instance - will a particular player score with a header? Will there be goals in the final half an hour of the game?

This type of bet is the closest you come to living room bets when you’re watching a game with your buddies and shooting off “propositions” at them. As such, they are the heart of live betting on MLS games and the most fun bet to place! Here are some popular MLS prop bets.

First/last player to score: This one isn’t hard to figure out. Sportsbooks will give you odds of every single player (even the goalkeeper) scoring either the first or last goal of the match, with the odds varying based on that player’s specialty. Defensive players, of course, will have the longest and most rewarding odds.      

Both halves: This is a binary bet on whether or not you think there will be goals in both halves of the game.

To get booked: Just like a list of players who might score, you get differing odds for a player to be booked, i.e., to either pick up either a yellow or a red card. If you do your research right, this can be a very lucrative market to bet on.

Time of the first goal: Before the match begins, you will typically be given six time periods of 15 minutes each, in which you think the first goal of the match - irrespective of which team - will be scored. In the case of live betting, this changes to when the next goal will be scored.

MLS Outrights and Futures Bets

Like all other sports, soccer odds and MLS betting open up early in pre-season and allow you to place bets on the outright winners of the competition, which in simple words means you can pick the MLS Cup winner well in advance. The advantage in doing this is that odds are generally more favorable - especially for the favorites - in pre-season than when a team picks up pace after the tournament has already begun. 

The downside, of course, is that the favorites very rarely go on to win because of the playoffs format, where one bad evening can knock them out of the tournament. You can also bet on several other outcomes that will occur in the future, which are intuitively called futures bets. Let’s take a look at some of them:

Outright winners: As mentioned earlier, you pick the team that you think will go on to win the MLS Cup. This market is generally open all the way from pre-season to the end of the league, with odds varying dramatically towards the back end of the league.

Conference winners: Like the MLS Cup outrights, the conference winners market allows you to back teams to top the Eastern and Western conferences.

To qualify: This type of bet is generally available on all tournaments involving knockout matches and therefore applies to MLS. You get a full selection of 28 teams and can choose to place bets on the teams you think will qualify for the playoffs, the semi-finals, and the finals. 

Golden Boot: Each year, the top goalscorer in MLS is awarded the Golden Boot award, and you can place bets on who will win it right from the pre-season stages.

Where will X play next?: There are variations on the name, but replace X with a player’s name, and this market is practically one that is based on MLS transfer and draft rumors. If you keep a close eye on transfer news, particularly stuff coming out of European media outlets, you generally know which franchise a player is bound for. See a rumor about Cristiano Ronaldo heading to the MLS? Get into the markets to place a reasonable bet on which team he might end up in.

How to Bet on MLS

With all the information above, you are well-equipped to place informed bets on the MLS. Every sportsbook will, more or less, offer soccer odds throughout the year, so you won’t have to embark on a long hunt. Remember that discipline is key to increasing your success, like with all gambling.

The MLS season is a months-long tournament and there will be plenty of opportunities to win big. The information above is a great place to start, but make sure you set up a collection of sources for reliable data and news so you can take your soccer betting to the next level.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is betting on MLS profitable?

Like with all domestic soccer competitions, MLS operates within a nine-month window. With each team playing 34 games at least, there are many opportunities to win. To be profitable, make sure your research is strong, your strategy adaptable, and your bets are placed across multiple markets of varying degrees of risk.

What format are soccer odds presented in?

You will most likely come across odds in the American format by default while betting from the United States, but if you don’t, be rest assured that all reliable sportsbooks will give you an option to toggle the odds formats from within their interface.

How much can I bet on MLS games?

It’s really up to you, but you should always bet within your means. Sports betting is meant to be an additional way to add entertainment to your love of MLS, so only bet what you can afford to lose.

Is MLS betting legal in Ohio?

The bill to legalize sports betting in Ohio has been passed, and fans will soon be able to bet on their favorite sporting action.