MLS is Back: Betting Preview for Atlanta-Red Bulls, FC Cincinnati-Columbus

Hell is real.

It's the perfect description for 2020, hyperbole for how terrible Friday's night's MLS is Back game was, an accurate portrayal of FC Cincinnati's 2019 season and the actual name of the Columbus Crew vs. FC Cincinnati rivalry.

The matchup of the two Ohio rivals is the nightcap of a Saturday doubleheader at ESPN's Wide World of Sports.

The opener between Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls could provide a solution to the lack of goals we have seen in the first four games of the competition.

Five goals were netted over the last three days, one match had both teams score and there have been zero first-half goals.

Even without Josef Martinez, Atlanta United is the team that could buck the first-half trend and shine on a national stage.

Atlanta United vs. New York Red Bulls (8 p.m. ET, Fox)

Odds: Atlanta United (+112; bet $100 to win $112); New York Red Bulls (+215); Draw (+265)

Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez are expected to carry the attacking load for Atlanta with Martinez out.

The pair of South American playmakers will test the biggest strength of the Red Bulls: center backs Aaron Long and Tim Parker.

Long and Parker form one of the best central defensive duos in MLS, but they could get stretched by Barco, Martinez and the players working behind them to set up the chances, like Eric Remedi and Brooks Lennon.

In fact, there is a chance Long and Parker get outplayed by Atlanta's central defense group, which is led by Miles Robinson.

However, the Five Stripes may face a much weaker test from the Red Bulls, who are calling on Brian White, Daniel Royer and Kaku to replace the goal-scoring prowess of Bradley Wright-Phillips, who is now with Los Angeles FC.

Royer is the X-factor in this contest. If he is able to keep Atlanta's full backs deeper to defend more, the Red Bulls should have more possession, and in turn, more scoring chances. The 30-year-old Austrian has three straight double-digit goal seasons and carries decent odds to score at +225.

Atlanta should be the aggressor in the first half, but if it fails to put the game away in the opening 45-60 minutes, the Red Bulls could steal a victory and Royer is the perfect man for the job.

The favored side receives my best bet tag, but keep an eye on who starts for the Red Bulls since there may be a ton of value in those players to score.

Best Bet: Atlanta United (+112)

FC Cincinnati vs. Columbus Crew (10:30 p.m. ET, FS1)

Odds: FC Cincinnati (+275); Columbus (-107); Draw (+255)

There are so many unknowns for the Ohio rivalry match.

FC Cincinnati is playing its first game under head coach Jaap Stam and it is the first 10:30 p.m. ET kickoff of the tournament.

You would think the late start time would help the players avoid cramping with the humidity down a bit from its peak in the middle of the day, but then again, we saw a ton of cramping issues in Friday's scoreless draw between Seattle and San Jose.

The one factor we can bank on is what the Crew will look like on the field, with head coach Caleb Porter having more influence on the play in his second season in charge.

Porter brought in Darlington Nagbe from Atlanta in the offseason to have a midfielder run a system he is more than familiar with. Porter coached Nagbe in Portland.

Gyasi Zardes is a polarizing figure among U.S. Men's National Team fans because of his performance at the international level, but he has been nothing but consistent since joining Columbus in 2018. He owns 33 goals in that span.

Pedro Santos emerged as a playmaking threat late in 2019 and Luis Diaz showed positive signs after joining in the middle of last season

That triumvirate should take advantage of the FC Cincinnati defense, which was a mess to say the least in 2019.

Although FC Cincy made some offseason upgrades and should benefit from having a former defender in Stam as head coach, it may take some time for the changes to materialize.

Best Bet: Columbus Team Goals Over 1.5 (+105)

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