When a derby meets a Conference Final, everything’s on the line. Two dramatic Conference Semis with plenty of late-game talking points have culminated in an all-Ohio affair in the Eastern, with the Hell is Real derby reaching a fever pitch in the 2023 Eastern Conference Final.
Jack Collins is here from The Game Day to look at the Eastern Conference Final in the MLS Audi Cup Playoffs on Saturday, Dec. 2.
FC Cincinnati vs Columbus Crew Odds
FC Cincinnati vs Columbus Crew betting lines are current as of Wednesday, Nov. 29, at 9 am ET at bet365 Sportsbook.
- 3-Way Moneyline: Cincinnati (+125) • Tie (+220) • Columbus (+230)
- Total Goals: Over 2.5 (-118) • Under 2.5 (-106)
- Both Teams To Score: Yes (-150) • No (+110)
FC Cincinnati vs Columbus Crew Match Prediction
FC Cincinnati 2-1 Columbus Crew
In many ways, the Eastern Conference Final gives you everything you could want from a game of this magnitude. The proximity of the two clubs and the rivalry between them means the atmosphere at TQL Stadium should be ramped up to 11, but on the pitch, there’s a clash of styles and setups that will provide an intriguing tactical battle between the two coaches.
Since Wilfried Nancy took over at Columbus at the start of this season, he has shaped his side in his own image – the Crew love having the ball. Possession-dominant and on the front foot, no team scored more goals, created more chances, or had more of the ball on average across the MLS regular season than Nancy’s Crew.
Pat Noonan’s side are more flexible. Cincinnati’s system revolves around winning the ball back in dangerous moments and then doing whatever it takes to allow their floating No. 10 and two exceptional wing-backs to get on the ball in dangerous areas, creating overloads for players with the technical ability to hurt opponents regularly.
Then there’s the players. There’s this year’s Landon Donovan MLS MVP in the shape of Cincinnati’s Luciano Acosta, arguably the most in-form player of the entire postseason so far in the Crew’s Cucho Hernández, Cincy’s wildcard Aaron Boupendza – who seems to delight and frustrate in equal measure when he’s on the field, and the all-action Energizer bunny Aidan Morris bounding around in the middle of the park for Columbus.
Much of the momentum swing of this game might well come down to the all-Colombian duel between Cucho and Cincinnati’s Yerson Mosquera. The on-loan Wolves defender stepped up for Cincy in the absence of Matt Miazga as the defensive pillar in the heart of Noonan’s defense. At the same time, Cucho has been the Crew’s standout attacking player in the playoffs, taking his form from the end of the regular season and upping the ante once again.
Cucho can do it all – he’s a veritable Swiss Army Knife of an attacker. If defenders stand off him, his pass selection is exceptional. If they get tight, he has the dribbling ability to take them out of the game. The Colombian can create his own chances, set up others, finish off moves, or drift deeper to pull defensive lines out of shape. He will be Mosquera’s biggest test yet.
It would be remiss not to address what influence Acosta might have on this game and how Nancy’s Crew will look to stop him from getting on the ball. It’s as simple as that in some ways – when the Argentine gets the touches and space he wants, he’s almost impossible to stop.
One of the critical reasons Acosta emerged as the league’s MVP this year is his drifting style means he’s difficult to pick up. He floats between the lines, daring defenders to step out and confront him before either dribbling past them or picking a pass that splits opponents open.
If they want to stop him, the Crew must have a plan – whether that’s Morris and the experienced Darlington Nagbe dropping back deeper to man-mark or Rudy Camacho stepping out of the back line to confront the Argentine head-on. It must be clearly communicated whichever way it falls, or Acosta will run riot in the chaos.
There are crucial individual matchups across this game everywhere that you look. Expect the blood and thunder of a derby game and a feast of technical skill and attacking prowess that has defined the seasons of these two regional rivals.
Home advantage gives Cincinnati the edge, and given Acosta has been a little quiet by his standards across the postseason so far, this could be the moment the MVP steps up to send his side to MLS’ showpiece match.
FC Cincinnati vs Columbus Crew Best Bet
Both Teams to Score: Yes (-150) • bet365 Sportsbook
The last time Cincinnati failed to find the back of the net was at the start of September against Orlando. The last time Columbus failed to score was at the end of August against Houston.
The two games between these sides in the regular season housed eight goals, including a 3-2 thriller at this stadium back in May.
With this amount of attacking talent on display in front of what will be a raucous crowd, this game has the potential to be a classic.