Columbus Crew on the Cusp: MLS Cup Final Preview

Is a third MLS title in the cards for Columbus? The Crew take on defending champs LAFC in the Final.

December 5, 2023

The MLS Cup final is here and is set to kick off at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday in Columbus, where Field and the Crew will host LAFC. Before looking ahead to that matchup, let’s take a quick look at how each team got here.

As has been noted in our prior previews, the Crew had the best goal differential in the league during the regular season, yet finished third in the Eastern Conference. They squared off against Atlanta United in the first round of the playoffs and needed all three games to advance.

They then dispatched Orlando City in overtime the Eastern Conference semifinals 2-0, but they needed the advantage of playing a man up to do so. The last step in the process was a dramatic win over intra-state rival FC Cincinnati, as they went down two goals before scoring in the 75th and 86th minutes to force extra time in the conference semifinals. Then, Christian Ramirez tapped home the game-winning goal on a beautiful tic-tac-toe of passing in the 114th minute.

Hernandez found the back of the net 16 times in the regular season – fourth most in the league – and has supplemented that with four goals in five postseason contests.

In terms of trends, the Crew have scored multiple goals in all five playoff games while also conceding multiple goals on three occasions. In terms of individual players, the Crew’s offense is led by Cucho Hernandez and Diego Rossi. Hernandez found the back of the net 16 times in the regular season – fourth most in the league – and has supplemented that with four goals in five postseason contests.

Rossi is the one pulling the strings with the ball at his feet, and he’s had a massive impact since transferring to the team from Fenerbache in early August. In 10 regular season games, he managed three goals and three assists. He’s further stepped up his performance in the MLS Cup Playoffs, tallying three assists while being credited with completing 13 key passes.

Defending Champs Await

On the other side of things, LAFC is in the MLS Cup final for the second consecutive season, seeking to defend its title. Much like the Crew, LAFC posted a stellar +15 goal differential and finished third in the Western Conference. Unlike Columbus, they’ve more effectively limited the goal scoring of their opponents, as they conceded only 39 goals in the regular season (compared to the Crew’s 46) and have given up only three in their five postseason games – including none across each of their last three matches.

A significant reason for (LAFC’s) defensive success is the return of goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau.

A significant reason for that defensive success is the return of goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau. His season debut was delayed until mid-September as he recovered from a broken leg that he suffered in the 2022 MLS Cup final. He started in rocky form, allowing at least one goal in six of his first eight games.

As noted, however, he’s currently on a three-game clean-sheet streak while tallying 17 saves in that span. Crepeau is protected in part by Ryan Hollingshead, a do-it-all back for LAFC. He tallied a career-high 89 tackles during the regular season and also chipped in seven goals. He’s added three goals in the postseason, including the goal that sent LAFC to the MLS Cup.

Though the focus may be on the defensive end of the field when looking at LAFC, that isn’t to say that the team struggles from an offensive perspective. The side racked up 53 goals in the regular season – good second in the Western Conference. Denis Bouanga played a big part in that, as he not only paced the team but also the league with 20 goals while also chipping in seven assists across 31 games.

Making The Pick

As for the matchup itself, the Crew enter as favorites (Tipico Sportsbook: +120). At this point in the season, both sides are of obvious quality and small things can make a difference. Here, the setting of the game is important with the Crew having the benefit of home-field advantage. In Columbus, the Crew have gone 12-1-4 this season.

Meanwhile, LAFC (+210) has gone 4-6-7 on the road. That certainly tilts the odds in favor of the Crew. For those who plan to back LAFC, one path to doing so is to bet on a tie (+250). The clearest way to victory for the defending champs could be similar to last season, when they played to a scoreless draw against the Union and won on penalty kicks.

Some other bets to consider include:

  • Correlating a Crew win to both teams scoring (-145) works well, because they are very likely to concede goals given their postseason track record.
  • For those backing LAFC, betting under 1.5 goals (+280) could be a longshot bet to consider given the likely script the match would have to follow.

The Pick: Columbus Crew 2-1

Dale Weber
Dale began working at RotoWire in 2017 writing MLB game wraps. He now covers primarily MLB, NFL and racing, but also has experience writing in a wide range of sports, including MMA, golf and soccer.