Predictions! Who will win Conference Semifinal matchups?


Eighteen teams entered, eight remain.

The Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs have reached the Conference Semifinals, where four teams apiece in the East and West will clash after the November international break.

Who stays on the path toward MLS Cup presented by Audi on Dec. 9 and who heads home? After getting seven of eight winners correct in the Round One Best-of-3 series, we've fired back up the predictions machine.

Remember: Conference Semifinals are single-elimination matches. Ties are settled via two 15-minute extra time periods, then a penalty kick shootout (if necessary).

Schedule for Conference Semifinals: Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs
EAST: Orlando (2) vs. Columbus (3)
Nov. 25, 5:30 pm ET
EAST: Cincinnati (1) vs. Philadelphia (4)
Nov. 25, 8 pm ET
WEST: Houston (4) vs. Kansas City (8)
Nov. 26, 7 pm ET
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WEST: Seattle (2) vs. LAFC (3)
Nov. 26, 9:30 pm ET
Orlando City SC (2) vs. Columbus Crew (3)
Eastern Conference

PREDICTION: Orlando win 3-2

A slugfest awaits at Exploria Stadium, just like when Orlando earned a 4-3 win over Columbus (courtesy of Ramiro Enrique's late brace) in mid-September. The Crew's DNA doesn't call for grind-it-out, defense-first results – head coach Wilfried Nancy has acknowledged as much. And Orlando, winners of six straight, can go blow-for-blow with any challenger.

This all creates a neutral's delight in the Conference Semifinals, where Facundo Torres (Orlando's Uruguayan winger) outshines Cucho Hernández (Columbus' Colombian striker) in a battle of South American stars. The Lions, one of MLS's best teams since May, reach their first-ever Conference Final.

FC Cincinnati (1) vs. Philadelphia Union (4)
Eastern Conference

PREDICTION: Cincinnati win 2-1

Which No. 10 has more magic in his boots – Luciano Acosta (Cincy) or Dániel Gazdag (Philly)? Which suspended defender will be missed more – Matt Miazga (Cincy) or Kai Wagner (Philly)? Who wins the in-game tactical battles between student (Pat Noonan) and teacher (Jim Curtin)?

There are dozens of ways to analyze this 2022 Conference Semifinal rematch, but my gut says the Supporters' Shield winners have a narrow advantage. TQL Stadium should be electric and Acosta, the 2023 Landon Donovan MLS MVP favorite, has a hand in both goals during a historic comeback. Yet again, the Orange & Blue find a way to battle adversity and advance.

Houston Dynamo FC (4) vs. Sporting Kansas City (8)
Western Conference

PREDICTION: Kansas City win 4-3 in PKs

Sporting KC's Tim Melia is a perfect 7-for-7 in penalty kick shootouts during his professional career, instilling a fear factor in opponents and confidence in his teammates. That aura blossoms during a history-rich matchup, which sees the visitors advance from the spot after a 1-1 draw (Alan Pulido redemptive winner, anyone?).

That means heartbreak for Héctor Herrera-led Houston, who won the US Open Cup in late September and have enjoyed a faster-than-expected rebuild under head coach Ben Olsen. But there's something magical brewing in Peter Vermes' squad, which boasts the West's best record since May and pulled off the only Round One upset when downing No. 1 seed (and rival) St. Louis.

Seattle Sounders FC (2) vs. LAFC (3)
Western Conference

PREDICTION: Seattle win 2-1 (extra time)

If anyone can stop Dénis Bouanga right now, it's a league-best Sounders defense. Well, we should probably say "slow down" because the Golden Boot presented by Audi winner is in electric form, tallying 9g/1a in LAFC's last five games. And there's every reason to believe Yeimar, Jackson Ragen and Stefan Frei are up to to the task.

The extra spice? Seattle get their game-winner from Nicolás Lodeiro in extra time, adding to the nostalgia factor around it reportedly being the legend's last year in Rave Green. And with that, the defending MLS Cup champs' title defense ends excruciatingly.