Los Angeles FC forward Brian Rodriguez

Mike Ehrmann - Getty Images

Our journey around the groups of the MLS Is Back Tournament finishes up with a look at Groups E & F.

Previously, we looked at Groups A & B and C & D here.

Group E

MLS is Back Tournament Group EMLS



Atlanta United FC

Entering their fourth season in the MLS, Atlanta United FC has taken the league by storm. Not only did Atlanta win the 2018 MLS Cup, but they are one of the most exciting teams in the league. Atlanta's fun factor did take a bit of hit earlier this year, when Josef Martinez tore his ACL in the season opener against Nashville SC.

Now Atlanta has to try and replace the production of Martinez, who scored 77 goals in his first three seasons in Atlanta, including 27 goals last year. Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco should get first cracks at trying to fill Martinez's shoes. Barco scored in each of Atlanta's first two games before the regular season was paused, while Martinez is still looking for his first goal of the year.

Atlanta's first game in the group stage left a lot to be desired. New York Red Bulls scored early on Atlanta to put the Five Stripes in a hole which they wouldn't be able to crawl out of. Frank de Boer's squad had nearly 70% of the possession in the match but they just couldn't find the back of the net, which is something they'll need to do if they want to make it to the knockout stage. Atlanta has a chance to get back on track on Thursday when they face FC Cincinnati.

FC Cincinnati

To say FC Cincinnati needs a lot of work might be an understatement. The orange and blue are just starting their second year in MLS, so it's understandable as to why they haven't seen much success yet. Last year FC Cincinnati posted a 6-22-6 record, and things haven't been any better this year, as Cincinnati has dropped their first three matches. The latest of those losses coming on Saturday night, when they were humbled 4-0 by rival Columbus in the Hell is Real derby.

It's going to take some sort of miracle for FC Cincinnati to move on to the knockout round. New head coach Jaap Stam has only been on the job since late May, so he is still trying to familiarize himself with the players he has to work with. The trip to Orlando to this tournament could bring the club together, but FC Cincinnati still has some work to do to find their identity.

New York Red Bulls

This year has already seen a bit of a changing of the guard with New York Red Bulls. Gone are the club's leading goal scorer and the starting goalkeeper from the last seven years. Bradley Wright-Phillips notched 108 MLS goals for the Metros, while Luis Robles recorded 72 clean sheets in 241 appearances. Trying to fill the scoring void left by Wright-Phillips will be Daniel Royer, Kaku, and Cristian Casseres. The trio of attackers have each scored a goal this year.

After starting the season with a win and a draw, NYRB recorded a huge victory on Saturday night, defeating Atlanta United FC 1-0. The Metros took a lead in the fourth minute thanks to a Florian Valot goal. Following the goal, New York dug in defensively, keeping the high-powered Atlanta attack off the scoresheet. With the victory, it's going to take a pretty big meltdown for NYRB to miss the knockout stage, especially with a fixture against FC Cincinnati still left on the schedule before the end of the group stage.

Columbus Crew SC

Columbus has all the makings of the most improved team in MLS this year. After finishing 10th in the Eastern Conference last year, the Crew have come out of the gates strong. Their latest win came on Saturday night, when they decimated FC Cincinnati 4-0. Lucas Zelarayan has been one of the most impactful additions so far this year. The Argentine scored the lone goal in a 1-0 win over NYCFC in the season opener. Zelarayan up the scoring on Saturday night against Cincinnati with a beautiful free kick, and followed it up with an assist later in the match.

The attack of the Crew isn't just Zelarayan. Gyasi Zardes scored two goals on Saturday night after burying 13 goals last year. Darlington Nagbe has added a steadying presence to midfield after spending the last two years with Atlanta. Pedro Santos scored 11 goals last year, but wasn't even named in Saturday night's squad. All this to say, if the defense of the Crew can hold up, the offense will give them plenty of support, making Columbus a very tough team to beat.

Group F

MLS is Back Tournament Group FMLS


Los Angeles FC

Last season left Los Angeles FC with unfinished business. In just their second season in the MLS, LAFC finished with the best record in the league, amassing 72 points before being upset by Seattle in the playoffs. Carlos Vela scored 36 total goals, establishing himself as the most dangerous attacker in the MLS. Vela has decided to opt out of this tournament though, as he has elected to stay home with his pregnant wife.

Even though LAFC won't have Vela for this tournament, Bob Bradley has a number of options that are more than capable of making up for the loss of Vela's production. Bradley Wright-Phillips was added from New York Red Bulls, and has already paid dividends, scoring in Monday's 3-3 draw with Houston. Los Angeles also has Diego Rossi, who scored 17 goals last year.

The Black and Gold have to be disappointed by only drawing with Houston on Monday night, but at least the squad has shown they can score without Vela on the pitch. The schedule for LAFC in their final two group games isn't easy, especially with "El Trafico" agains LA Galaxy slated for Saturday night. Even though they'll be tested against their rivals and Portland, smart money is on LAFC to move on to the knockout stage.

LA Galaxy

It seems some of the biggest soccer stars in the world find their way to Los Angeles to play for the Galaxy. Zlatan Ibrahimovic spent the last two years with the club, scoring 31 goals last season. There wasn't much offense from the Galaxy aside from Zlatan, as the rest of the team only scored 32 goals. Ibrahimovic has moved back to Europe, which forced the club to bring in Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez.

The Galaxy are still searching for their first win this season, drawing their season opener against Houston before falling to Vancouver in March and Portland on Monday night in Orlando. Los Angeles fell behind the Timbers 2-0, but was able to pull one goal back thanks to Hernandez. Los Angeles threatened the Timbers throughout the game, but they just didn't have the finishing touch needed to earn any points.

Monday night's setback puts the Galaxy at the bottom of the group. With a huge match against rival Los Angeles FC set for Saturday night, the Galaxy are going to need to at least earn a point if they want to see the next round of the competition. Los Angeles needs to hope Hernandez can build off his goal late in the match on Monday night, or else the Galaxy could be headed home earlier than they had hoped.

Houston Dynamo

After winning the first two MLS Cup titles, Houston has really fallen on hard times. The Dynamo have now missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons. The first step Houston has taken to try and right the ship was to hire Tab Ramos, who has spent the last eight seasons coaching the United States Under-20 National Team. To go along with Ramos, the Dynamo brought in Darwin Quintero to bolster the attack, while trading for Zarek Valentin to add some veteran leadership to the defense.

So far this year Houston has done everything but win. The Dynamo actually held a 3-1 lead over Los Angeles FC before blowing the lead and settling for a 3-3 draw. Memo Rodriguez scored two goals against LAFC, while Alberth Elis scored his second goal of the season. If Houston can challenge their final two opponents in the group stage like they challenged LAFC, the Dynamo could surprise many and move on to the knockout stage.

Portland Timbers FC

Round out this group is Giovanni Savarese's Portland Timbers. After falling to Minnesota in their first game of the year, the Timbers have notched wins over Nashville and LA Galaxy, who they defeated 2-1 on Monday night. After scoring 11 goals last year, Jeremy Ebobisse opened the scoring on Monday night, while Sebastian Blanco netted the game-winning goal just a few minutes later.

The most notable Timbers players is Diego Valeri, who scored eight goals and was credited with 16 assists last season. The hardest working player on the roster is Diego Chara, who is a fixture in midfield for Portland. Chara received a boost when his brother, Yimmy, was acquired in the offseason. They are just the eight pair of brothers to play together in the MLS.

Portland got a critical win in their first group stage match, which should help them in the quest to make the knockout stage. The Timbers are still looking for more consistent goal scoring after the Brian Fernandez experiment last season didn't work out, but they have the experience that should see them through to the knockout stage.

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Tom Pennington, Getty Images

In Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Bam Adebayo's 31-point and 10-rebound double-double led the Miami Heat to a 109-103 victory over the Celtics on the road. That was followed by a dominant second-half performance by Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins who led the Warriors to a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals.

Tonight, we'll get the first of these two matchups. Boston will look to come back in their second home game against a Heat team that is clearly not at 100% healthy. Tyler Herro has been ruled out for Game 4 while Kyle Lowry remains questionable. Here are some of the best bets for tonight's and tomorrow's big Game 4s.

Please note that all odds and lines are from FanDuel Sportsbook and were accurate at 3:30 PM EST. Be sure to check for line movement or odd changes.

ECF Game 4: Miami Heat at Boston Celtics -7 (MIA Leads 2-1)

In Game 4, the Celtics rallied back from double-digits to make things interesting in the fourth quarter. However, Boston conceded Game 3 to the Miami Heat 109-103. On Sunday, Bam Adebayo was getting everything he wanted down low. He finished with 31 points, 10 boards, six assists, four steals, and one block. Ime Udoka will need to boost the presence of his big men down low, perhaps by extending Daniel Theis’ minutes or having him share the floor more with Al Horford. The major reason for which the Heat are considered the seven-point underdogs for tonight’s game is injuries. Tyler Herro has already been ruled out for Game 4, and the Heat have four or five other players in their lineup currently listed as questionable. This includes Max Struss, Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler, and P.J. Tucker. Butler is dealing with knee inflammation which sidelined him for the second half of Game 3.

Even if all of the players in the Heat’s rotation are good to go tonight (outside of Herro), Boston has not lost back-to-back home games since late October. Plus, Jaylen Brown is shooting much better than he did earlier in the postseason. In fact, he’s elevated his shooting to 50% from the field through the 2021-22 playoffs through 14 games played. Expect Boston to bounce back big in Game 4, with multiple players on the Miami Heat not at full strength.

The Pick: Boston Celtics -7 (-110)

WCF Game 4: Golden State Warriors at Dallas Mavericks -1 (GSW Leads 3-0)

Well, it’s looking like the Golden State Warriors are returning to the NBA Finals. With the emergence of Jordan Poole late this season and into the postseason, Andrew Wiggins’ First-Team All-Star season, and Klay Thompson’s return to basketball, Golden State has been simply phenomenal. Golden State is simply that good this year, with anyone on the team capable of stepping up. Stephen Curry erupted in Game 3, while it was Andrew Wiggins that caught fire in the second half of Game 4. Any given night, the Warriors have one or two guys who they can count on for scoring approximately 25+ points. Considering the Mavericks' struggles this round, particularly behind the three-point line, bettors should go with the Warriors as the slight underdog. Teams get swept sometimes. Just ask the Brooklyn Nets. The Warriors will bring out the brooms and sweep the Mavericks as they punch their ticket to the NBA Finals Tuesday night.

The Pick: Golden State Warriors ML -104

NBA Player Props

Golden State Warriors at Dallas Mavericks -1 (GSW Leads 3-0)

Prop #1: Stephen Curry, Over 27.5 Points

Stephen Curry has scored 31 points and 32 points over the last two games. He’s done so by converting at least 50% from the field in each contest. It makes sense that he would score at least 28 points in a series-clinching victory tomorrow night. Curry is averaging 27.1 PPG on 45.9% this postseason but has certainly put up more points and done so more efficiently over the last few games.

Prop #2: Luka Doncic, Over 3.5 Threes

Luka has drained nine three-pointers over the last two games. He’s knocked down at least four threes in three of his last four contests. Facing elimination and hoping to not let down the home crowd in back-to-back home playoff games, Doncic will convert at least four baskets from downtown in Game 4.

Tyler Herro (Left), Bam Adebayo (Right), Miami Heat

Getty Images

Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo, and the Miami Heat held their own against the Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Likewise, Andrew Wiggins and Stephen Curry led the Warriors to a 112-87 blowout over Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks. Tonight, the Celtics play their second game on the road against the Heat. On Friday night, the Mavericks will look to bounce back after shooting horrifically in Game 1.

Let’s take a look at the best bets for the two NBA Conference Final Game 2 matchups set for 8:30 PM EST. tonight and 9:00 PM EST. tomorrow night.

Please note that all odds and lines are from FanDuel Sportsbook and were accurate at 4:30 PM EST. Be sure to check for line movement or odd changes.

Best Bets of the Night

Game: Boston Celtics at Miami Heat -2 (MIA Leads 1-0)

After a nail-biting series with the Milwaukee Bucks that the Celtics won in grandiose fashion, Boston conceded Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Miami Heat. Tonight, they play Game 2 of the series at the FTX Arena and hope to bounce back from Tuesday’s 11-point loss. One of the principal reasons for their defeat in Game 1 was the absence of Marcus Smart (foot sprain) and Al Horford (health & safety protocols). It remained a relatively close game until the third quarter in which the Celtics were outscored 14-3 to begin the second half. Derrick White filled in for Marcus Smart and was terribly inefficient from the field. He scored three points (1-4 FG) and had four assists in 29 minutes filling in for the Defensive Player of the Year. In contrast, Max Struss and Gabe Vincent did a terrific job of filling in for Kyle Lowry, combining for 28 points on 9-of-19 shooting. In addition, Tyler Herro had a good night with a pivotal 18 points (7-15 FG) off the bench. Fortunately for the Celtics, both Smart and Horford are expected to return tonight.

Head Coach Ime Udoka indicated to reporters today that Smart was probable to play this evening. Horford was cleared of health and safety protocols today making him available for tonight’s contest. For those of you who have watched the Celtics this postseason, Horford and Smart have upped their play and have been absolutely integral to the team’s success. Tonight, let’s take the Boston Celtics to take a game on the road in the same fashion that they took two road games from the Bucks in the last series.

The Pick: Boston Celtics ML +108

Tonight's Best NBA Player Props

Game: Boston Celtics at Miami Heat -2 (MIA Leads 1-0)

Prop#1: Gabe Vincent Over 9.5 Points
In Game 1 without Kyle Lowry, Gabe Vincent scored 17 points in 34 minutes on 50% shooting from the field. As Kyle Lowry is out again for Game 2 tonight, expect Vincent to score at least 10 points. Vincent has performed admirably while filling in for the veteran. Even when Lowry returns, it's quite possible that Erik Spoelstra will give some of Lowry's minutes to Vincent.
Prop#2: Al Horford Over 9.5 Points
After five straight double-digit scoring performances, Al Horford scored eight points or fewer in the last three games of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Bucks. He missed Game 1 of the Celtics' series against the Miami Heat after entering Health & Safety protocols. Since he was only out for one game, he shouldn't face any minute restrictions tonight. Horford should score at least 10 points in 30+ minutes on the floor.

Tomorrow Night's Best NBA Bet

Game: Dallas Mavericks at Golden State -6 (GSW Leads 1-0)

Dallas was annihilated by Golden State in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. This comes after the Mavs blew out the Phoenix Suns on the road in impressive fashion, punching their ticket to the next round of the playoffs for a series against the Warriors. Golden State shot an impressive 56.1% from the field in the opening game and finished with 112 points. Just as important as the offensive production, Golden State clamped down on defense. The Warriors contained Luka Doncic, who converted just six of his 18 field goals on his way to 20 points. Andrew Wiggins did an excellent job guarding the young playmaker. Luka's teammates didn't help out much either as the Mavericks shot 36% from the field in Game 1, and 22.9% from downtown (11-48 3PT FG) for just 87 points on the night.

While I think the Warriors will win again on Friday night, expect the Mavericks to keep things more interesting after such an abysmal night shooting from the field. Dallas will make the adjustments needed to make this a competitive Game 2 in the Bay area.

The Pick: Dallas Mavericks +6 (-110)

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Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Klay Thompson is coming off one of his signature Game 6 performances. Thompson dropped his second-highest point total of the postseason, punching Golden State's ticket to the Western Conference Finals after defeating the Memphis Grizzlies in six games. In the elimination game, Thompson led the team with 30 points (11-22 from the field and 8-14 from beyond the arc), eight boards, two assists, and three blocks. Considering the multitude of injuries he has fought back from and the adversity he has faced, it's quite amazing that the five-time All-Star has converted at least 50% of his three-point shots in three of his last four outings. He seems to be in great form entering this pivotal series with the Mavericks.

Dallas stunned the top-seeded Phoenix Suns and reigning Western Conference champs on the road in Game 7, 123-90, and earned a trip to the Western Conference Finals. Let's see if Thompson can remain scorching hot as Stephen Curry and the Dubs host Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals tonight. Now, let's take a look at some of the best bets and player props to consider for tonight’s big matchup!

Please note that all odds and lines are from FanDuel Sportsbook and were accurate at 3:30 PM EST. Be sure to check for line movement or odd changes.

Best Bets of the Night

Bet #1: Golden State Warriors -5 (-110)

Following a tough loss in Game 5 to the Grizzlies despite Ja Morant’s absence from the lineup, the Warriors bounced back and closed the series at home in Game 6. They take on the Dallas Mavericks, who’ve been absolutely unbelievable on defense. Changes made to the Mavs’ rotation by Jason Kidd worked flawlessly against Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and the Suns in the previous round. One surprise for Dallas this postseason has been former New York Knicks lottery pick, Frank Ntilikina. He's a player who has stepped up immensely this postseason, especially on defense. Throughout the series, Ntilikina held Chris Paul and Devin Booker to a combined 3-of-40 shooting from the field when he guarded them.

It will be interesting to see if Jason Kidd keeps his minutes up, or perhaps increases them after what was truly an astonishing defensive performance against the Suns. Unfortunately for the Mavericks, the Golden State Warriors have four efficient scorers who will need to be contained. The Warriors will cover the spread tonight and win by more than five points on their home floor.

Bet #2: Over 214.5 Total Points (-110)

Dallas scored an impressive 123 points in Game 7, and they did so on the road. I expect them to reach at least 110 points in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. The Warriors shot on and off throughout their series against the Memphis Grizzlies. Nonetheless, they averaged 111 PPG in their series against Memphis (666 total points scored by the Warriors over six games). Both teams play a style of basketball that stresses ball movement to find an open man beyond the arc. When Dallas or Golden State shoot 40%-45% from the field, they can score in the hundreds because of the high volume of shots they take. Dallas started taking more shots and playing at a faster pace in the second half of their series against Phoenix. By the half in Game 7, Dallas was up 57-27. In the game, the Mavericks went 19-of-39 from downtown (48.9%). Even more impressive was Dallas’ 56.8% shooting from the field. Although the Warriors are one of the best defensive teams in the league, a 214.5-point Over / Under for tonight’s game is quite low. Smash the Over.

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NBA Player Props of the Night

Prop #1: Jordan Poole Over 1.5 Threes (-174)

Jordan Poole has finally cooled down after a stretch of three 20-point games against the Grizzlies. Over the last three contests, Poole has only hit two or more three-pointers in one contest. Over those last three games, he shot a combined 3-of-17 from downtown. While Poole has been highly inefficient over the last few games, he’ll hit at least two three-pointers in Game 1 tonight. The odds of this prop reflect how likely it is to happen. Although Poole isn't seeing as high a usage rate as when Curry and Thompson were injured during the regular season, Poole should still see plenty of open looks in the 25+ minutes he should log tonight. Given that Dallas will most likely try to stop Curry and Thompson from beating them, Poole should see a few wide-open looks. He will knock down at least two from deep range tonight.

Prop #2: Klay Thompson Over 20.5 Points (-112)

Klay Thompson has averaged just about 20.5 points since he came back this regular season. Throughout the postseason, he’s played strong and for the most part, been efficient from the field. Through 11 games in this postseason, Thompson is averaging 20.4 PPG on 45% shooting from the field. I like him to hit the over here in his first Western Conference Final matchup in three years. After getting his swagger back and dropping 30 points to eliminate the Grizzlies last round, Thompson should have all. the confidence in the world heading into Game 1 in the bay.

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