Nashville SC

What are the odds? #MLSisBack group play

We’re just over a week away from the beginning of MLS’s return-to-play tournament, and it’s starting to feel pretty real. Positive COVID-19 tests be damned, this thing is going to happen.

So what are the odd for each team? The Vegas odds are out. Surprise! LAFC is the heavy favorite. Nashville SC has significantly worse odds than both FC Cincinnati and Vancouver Whitecaps, the two teams they’re most-commonly lumped in with. Interestingly on that front, though, are the other teams sharing a group with each of them:

MLS is back odds
Group A (Nashville 75/1) Group B (Vancouver 66/1) Group E (Cincinnati 60/1)
Orlando 50/1 San Jose 28/1 Columbus 20/1
Chicago 50/1 Dallas 25/1 New York Red Bulls 18/1
Miami 33/1 Seattle 15/2 Atlanta 15/2
Philadelphia 25/1 🙂
New York City 9/1 🙂

The teams against whom Nashville is competing for a shot to get out of the group are considered much longer shots than the Boys in Gold. That includes two of the three teams Nashville actually plays (Orlando and Chicago), which have longer odds than anyone in Vancouver’s or Cincinnati’s group.

That’s not to say Nashville has been treated unfairly – or even that NSC is a lock to end up with a better finish than either of these two teams – but certainly if you’re looking for value plays at the very bottom of the odds, that’s a much better one than the Whitecaps or Fightin’ Attendances.

That’s particularly true if you’re a believer in FiveThirtyEight‘s projections, which have Nashville somewhat comfortably ahead of either of those teams. Interestingly, 538 is much higher on Chicago (ninth in the field, rather than a three-way tie for 21st according to Vegas), a little bit higher on Orlando (outright 21st, rather than that three-way tie), and comfortably bigger on Philly (fourth, rather than a three-way tie for 13th), and still has Nashville more likely to have a better finish than either of those teams.

Odds to advance

The rules of the competition have been altered slightly,  so let’s quickly take an updated look at a hypothetical team from each group’s odds to advance to the knockout round.

To begin with, given that three teams from Group A automatically qualify for the bracket, and two from each of Groups B-F, the chance of advancing as an automatic qualifier is 50% for every team*. That accounts for 13 teams in the knockout stage, leaving the remaining 13 teams battling for the three “at-large” bids. The differentiating factor right now is going to be how many teams are in the group, because that affects potential point totals for third-place (or in Group A’s case, fourth-place) finishers. You can see the odds of each point total in the two different group sizes here.

* For the sake of simplicity, we’re not taking specific teams’ strengths into account for a moment here.

The likelihood for Group A’s fourth-place team to take one of those three spots is ever-so-slightly higher than any individual team from Groups B-F (it’s about 26.3% to occupy a guaranteed-advance “top non-auto-qualifier” spot, whereas it’s 20% for a team in the other five groups – before potential tiebreakers). That’s a tradeoff for having three teams – rather than two – in the group seeking a single at-large spot.

Of course, the teams’ relative strength is not even across the board, so taking it into the realm of reality, a matchup between Philadelphia and Orlando (to say nothing of Atlanta and Cincy) is not a 33/33/33 win/loss/draw proposition. The games won’t be played on paper, and for the time being, every team controls its own destiny to a realistic extent.

THE THRILL of Wide World of Sports. Photo from file, courtesy Disney.

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