Playing with Fire, Vegas style

There’s money to be made betting on MLS if you do your research and know your trends

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Raphael Wicky

Head coach Raphael Wicky of the Chicago Fire gives instructions during a match against the New England Revolution at Soldier Field on September 06, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. The Revolution defeated the Fire 2-1.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

LAS VEGAS — Carmine Bianco observes a Raphael Wicky interview and swears he’s listening to Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool boss who guided the Reds to the English Premier League crown last season.

WagerTalk’s ace soccer handicapper, Bianco does double takes when he beholds Wicky, the second-year Chicago Fire FC coach who, like Klopp, wears spectacles and often sports facial scruff.

Bianco has difficulty distinguishing the Swiss Wicky from the German Klopp.

“[Wicky] actually sounds like Klopp,” Bianco says from his Toronto-area home. “He’s very deliberate, like Klopp, very monotone. His mannerisms, he’s like a carbon copy.”

The Fire (5-10-8 last season) would fare well by mimicking 2019-20 Liverpool (32-3-3), which won the EPL crown by 18 points over Manchester City.

Liverpool, however, also endured a recent six-match losing streak at its vaunted Anfield, the worst home slide in its 128-year history. That came amid a seven-game run in which it scored only once on its own pitch.

Klopp, alas, is mortal.

In this space, though, we’re only interested in profiting from such stellar runs or sorry slides. The Fire’s new season begins Saturday against New England at Soldier Field, and the Fire figure into two potential money-making angles.

“Wicky’s first season didn’t go very well,” says Bianco, 51. “There was a defensive indifference on that team. It might be good on offense this season. From a gambling point of view, I might have to look at Over on Fire totals early.

“That was them last season. They could score goals, they just made some errors which cost them games.”


Wicky, 43, was known as a combative defensive midfielder in a career that included time in the German Bundesliga and La Liga in Spain.

In the 14-team Eastern Conference last season, only Montreal (43) and D.C. United (41) allowed more than the Fire’s 39 goals. Showing defensive combativeness will be imperative in 2021.

And of the 26 MLS squads, only the Fire (0-5-6) did not win a road match.

In handicapping this season, that’s salient. A bettor using $100 as a unit, or usual wager, betting on the opposition plus half a goal — to cover a win and draw — in the Fire’s 11 away matches would have made $551.95, a nifty 50.2% return on investment.

That factors some heavy favorite odds (of -448 at Orlando, -435 at Columbus and -407 at Kansas City, for example) to be expected with securing bets that reward home-side draws, as insurance.

A $100 wager, for instance, on Philadelphia plus half a goal at home, at -340, against the Fire returned $29.41 on Oct. 28, when the Union won 2-1. Had Chicago knotted it late, no matter, the bet wins.

A 29.4% return for such security is not minor, and all 11 of those away matches paid a dividend. Bianco agrees that it’s wise to employ that angle this season.

“And I’m looking at their totals, too. After the MLS Is Back tournament, Chicago played 18 games and 14 of them had at least three goals. Another good angle.”

A 2.5 total-goals figure is typical in soccer matches, with -110 odds that incorporate a 10% vigorish (or vig) associated with such a side bet. A unit becomes a $110 wager. Fourteen won, paying $1,400. The four losses cost $440.

So betting Fire games Over netted $960 over that stretch, a 48.5% ROI.

Combined with the opponent plus a half-goal in Fire away matches, and $3,080 in wagers netted $1,511.95 in profit, a 49.1% return.

For anyone leery of paying a price higher than -200, those 11 wagers become four, $400 that would have netted $348.73. Add the Over action, and that’s $1,308.73 profit on a $2,380 investment, a 55% return.

Bianco also taps LAFC (+400 at Draft-Kings), defending-champion Columbus (+500), Orlando (10-1) and Atlanta (16-1) as worthy future plays to win the MLS Cup.

Components of a soccer portfolio that, with guile and tact, will be expanded as we monitor the season. We’ll update with additional action, and records, accordingly.

And we’ll furnish an occasional HammerLock selection — Sunday, in Bergamo, Italy, it’s Juventus at Atalanta, -111 on Over 3 goals.


Past performance, of course, never guarantees a windfall. However, Bianco enjoyed seeing at least three goals being tallied in four of the Fire’s five preseason matches against MLS foes.

And that’s without Bulgarian winger Stanislav Ivanov (left-knee surgery) and German midfielder Fabian Herbers (right knee). Kiwi midfielder Elliot Collier (left ankle) has been shelved for four weeks.

Moreover, Djordje Mihailovic, who had an MLS-best seven assists last season, was released, inked by Montreal.

The Fire did add 20-year-old Nigerian striker Chinonso Offor to complement Robert Beric, whose 11 goals represented an MLS-high 35% of his team’s total last season.

Bianco also likes that the Fire returned to the Kentucky bluegrass of Soldier Field, which begins 2021 with a 7,000-fan cap.

“That’s good for the players,” he says. “Foreigners, especially, don’t want to play on artificial turf. And 7,000 fans in that stadium will probably sound like 30,000 or 40,000.

“Can Raphaël get them to play his system, play better defensively? The playoffs should be their goal. They’ll battle Montreal, Inter Miami and New England for that eighth spot. When they play those teams, they need to get full points.”

Should Wicky hone the Fire into a playoff side, a few more people just might mistake him for Klopp.

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