MLS Conference Finals: An All-Ohio Showdown in the East

Columbus Crew vs. FC Cincinnati — one game for a spot in the MLS Cup Final.

November 28, 2023

The MLS Cup Playoffs roll on as the MLS Conference Finals are set to take place on Saturday. In the Eastern Conference, the Columbus Crew will square off against FC Cincinnati in a much-anticipated all-Ohio matchup. Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, LAFC will look to head back to the MLS Cup Final for the second consecutive season and defend their title, though they’ll need to get past the red-hot Houston Dynamo in order to do so.

Eastern Conference

Soccer fans will be treated to the “Hell is Real” rivalry to determine which team will represent the Eastern Conference in the MLS Cup in an all-Ohio matchup. Cincinnati proved that times are changing in the conference, as they overtook the 2022 MLS Cup representative Philadelphia Union with a 1-0 win in the conference semifinals last weekend. The team tied for the fewest goals conceded among Eastern Conference sides during the regular season and have continued their staunch defensive work in the postseason by allowing just one goal across three games.

That isn’t to say the team can’t hold its own offensively, as they are led by Luciano Acosta – the 2023 MLS MVP. Acosta contributed on 31 of the team’s 57 goals with 17 goals and 14 assists this season. He’s delivered one goal during the postseason run, while the team has otherwise gotten well-rounded contributions. They’ll head into Saturday’s match as the favorite and with relatively short odds to win (Tipico Sportsbook: +112).

The Crew scored the most goals of any side during the regular season and have also carried that form into the playoffs, recording multiple goals in all four of their contests.

Though the Crew are underdogs (+240), they will be a formidable opponent. Unlike Cincinnati, Columbus has been powered by their offense this season and postseason. The Crew scored the most goals of any side during the regular season and have also carried that form into the playoffs, recording multiple goals in all four of their contests. Thus, we have strength against strength. While cliché, this game will come down to each side executing their preferred playing style.

With only five losses this season – the fewest in the league – the smart bet is on Cincinnati to ultimately impose their will and come away with a victory in this rivalry matchup. Of course, a third option is to bet on this game being tied (+240) after full time, though Cincinnati should be able to find the back of the net at least once in regulation.

Western Conference

The story is a bit different in the Western Conference, where LAFC is a heavy favorite to advance to the MLS Cup (-165). Given the regular season results of the two sides, that’s justified as LAFC finished third in the West by a narrow margin. They also had the second-best goal differential in the West, blending an elite offense with a more than competent defense.

Once again, we’ve seen that carry forward into the team’s playoff run, as they dispatched the Vancouver Whitecaps in the opening round by scores of 5-2 and 1-0. One round later, they beat the rival Seattle Sounders 1-0, displaying their versatility and ability to win in different ways. Add in the fact that they’re the defending champs with requisite postseason experience, and this seems like a one-sided affair.

(Houston has) lost only once in their last 17 MLS matches…

It would be a mistake to dismiss the Dynamo without second thought, however, as they finished only one point behind LAFC in the regular season. They’ve been less than convincing in their postseason results, as two of their matches in the opening round were decided by penalty kicks (one win, one loss). In the conference semifinals, Houston squeaked by Sporting KC – a wild-card team – 1-0.

That said, they’ve lost only once in their last 17 MLS matches (excluding Leagues Cup and U.S. Open Cup matches) and will enter this game in top form. However, the odds tell the story and the Dynamo (+400) are longshots to advance. Oddsmakers don’t even expect the match to be particularly close, as a regulation tie is also a longshot outcome (+320).

With that in mind, there is at least one additional way to try to extract value from this weekend’s set of games. That’s in the futures market, where both LAFC is +145 and Cincinnati is +155 to win the MLS Cup. Houston (+800) is a longshot for the reasons laid out above. A potential value option is the Crew at +390 to win it all.

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.