What you need to know

Cincinnati surpass Philadelphia for Conference Final berth

Yerson Mosquera's dramatic stoppage-time goal sent FC Cincinnati past the Philadelphia Union, 1-0, and into the Eastern Conference Final Saturday night at TQL Stadium. The Supporters' Shield winners will now host Hell is Real rival Columbus Crew next Saturday (6 pm ET | MLS Season Pass) at TQL Stadium for a place in MLS Cup presented by Audi on Dec. 9.

Columbus outlast Orlando, reach Conference Final

The Columbus Crew punched their Eastern Conference Final ticket Saturday night with a 2-0 extra-time win at 10-man Orlando City SC. Christian Ramírez found the breakthrough in the 93rd minute and Cucho Hernández iced the game with an empty-netter from midfield, taking advantage of Rodrigo Schlegel’s 77th-minute red card. 

Western Conference Semifinals today

Houston Dynamo FC host Sporting Kansas City at 7 pm ET on MLS Season Pass, FS1, FOX Deportes, TSN and RDS. Seattle Sounders FC welcome LAFC at 9:30 pm ET on MLS Season Pass. The winners reach the Western Conference Final on Dec. 2.

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A stoppage-time goal and a pair of extra-time goals determined the Eastern Conference Final. Let’s talk it out.

R. Schlegel (Red Card - 77') | C. Ramírez (93'), C. Hernández (118')

What happened?: Orlando never gained control in this one. After Rodrigo Schlegel’s 77th-minute red card, they gave up any chance to grab it. It was just a matter of time until the Crew broke through and, eventually, Christian Ramírez and Cucho Hernández obliged. The Crew are on to face Cincy in the Hell is Real to end all Hell is Reals. 

So, did we learn anything?: When you try and destroy more than create, you tend to ride a fine line. Orlando did a decent job of muddying the waters for the Crew for a while, but the game model collapsed in on itself after Schlegel’s second yellow. There are questions to ask about what they need to do to get over the hump next year. They’re close. But they need a little more. 

Meanwhile, the Crew are on the verge of a second MLS Cup appearance in the last four years. They’ve played outstanding soccer all season and have only gotten better as time goes on. It started to feel like when and not if in this one. There’s an inevitability to their attack. Especially if you sit back. Cincinnati’s game plan next week is going to be fascinating.

Y. Mosquera (90+4')

What happened?: Despite missing three starters (and d-mid Obinna Nwobodo), FC Cincinnati’s backline held strong thanks in part to Yerson Mosquera. But his biggest contribution of the night came in attack. Mosquera found the net in the fourth minute of second-half stoppage time to send Cincinnati to the Eastern Conference Finals. It didn’t come without controversy though. A “not offside” decision on the goal will be debated for a long time.

So, did we learn anything?: Phew, I dunno, seems like we got the bar fight we all expected. Full credit to Alvas Powell and Ian Murphy for putting in a shift on the backline along with Mosquera. Both the Union and Cincy were held to minimum chances, but Cincy were just a little bit better. Hell is Realer Than Ever is on the way and they’ll be the favorites to go to MLS Cup.

The Union came up short in the postseason again and might have just watched a championship window close. Or at least shut slightly. It never really clicked this year and it’s hard to pinpoint why. They might need some new faces.

Two keys to two more semifinals

We’re not quite done yet. Let’s take a quick look at two more massive matches.

Once more, with feeling

It’s time to talk about match-winners again. I don’t think we really need to dig into it a ton because we’ve been digging into it all year when we’ve talked about Houston. It feels like they don’t have a singular game-changer in attack and that absence puts a cap on their ceiling. In practice, that hasn’t stopped them from winning the US Open Cup and hosting a Conference Semifinal. If there is a cap, we haven’t hit it yet.

That being said, if you were picking a player to score tonight, you’d pick Sporting KC’s Alan Pulido first. Then you’d take Sporting KC’s Johnny Russell. Then you’d go…Sporting KC’s Daniel Sallói. At that point, you’d have a tough time deciding whether to go with Houston’s Amine Bassi via a penalty or Houston’s Corey Baird, but you could maybe consider throwing SKC’s Erik Thommy in there too. At the very least, we’re looking at three SKC players before we’re really even considering a Houston player, especially if we’re only thinking about non-penalty goals.

That’s a distinct advantage for Sporting. There’s no getting around that. Fortunately, for the Dynamo, there are a few things working in their favor. First and foremost, they’re at home. That’s always going to be the biggest factor. Because MLS. Second, Sporting KC will be dealing with a key absence. Left back Logan Ndenbe tore his ACL against St. Louis. He somehow played nearly an entire half with that injury, but he won’t be available for the rest of the playoffs.

Ndenbe made 18 starts this year for SKC and found a way to score twice in Round One. He’s been good. It’s not a death blow to SKC by any stretch, but in the same way you don’t try new recipes on Thanksgiving, you don’t want to be trying new recipes in a single-elimination playoff game. Sporting KC will be forced into changes here. That could be enough to provide an opening for Houston. It kind of feels like Houston need it to provide an opening. Otherwise, SKC might have too much firepower to overcome. Even at home.

You don’t need to be sold

Y’all, it’s Seattle-LAFC. I don’t even know what to add. We know how Seattle are going to play. We know how LAFC are going to play. There’s a good chance Seattle have an advantage in midfield. There’s a good chance Dénis Bouanga does something astounding. It’s hard to envision this being anything but the kind of game where both teams have a relatively equal amount of chances and the ball just decides to go in for one team more than the other.

Whoever that is will be the favorite to go to MLS Cup. Again. We’re talking about the two most successful teams in the West for over five years now. Nothing we say is going to raise the stakes. They’re already as high as they can be. You don’t need to be sold on this one. It’s going to be as good as it gets in this league.

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Good luck out there. Have an eventful day.