FC Cincinnati take on Columbus Crew in the Hell is Real derby the 2023 MLS Eastern Conference final at TQL Stadium on Saturday 2 December, with the winning team going on to face either LAFC or Houston Dynamo in the MLS Cup, which will be held a week later on 9 December.
Supporters’ Shield winners face former MLS Cup champions
For the Orange and Blue, who only started comPeting in Major League Soccer in 2019, it’s an opportunity to “do the double” having already won the Supporters’ Shield. Pat Noonan’s team were officially crowned the best team in the MLS regular season with several matches to spare, ending up with 20 victories, nine draws and only five defeats in their 34 league fixtures.
The Crew, as one of MLS’ charter clubs, have already tasted considerable success in the past, winning the Supporters’ Shield in 2004, 2008 and 2009, as well as the big one - the MLS Cup - in 2008 and as recently as 2020. Wilfried Nancy’s team are one of the most in-form teams in the country after winning four of their last five Games and losing just one of the last 10.
FC Cincinnati - Columbus crew players to watch
Luciano Acosta (FC Cincinnati)
Cincinnati’s superb 2023 (so far) can be illustrated by the fact Noonan was named Sigi Schmidt Coach of the Year, while attacker Luciano Acosta was the runaway winner of the Landon Donovan MVP Award, taking over 60% of the total votes (LAFC’s Denis Bouanga was second with just under 15%).
The Argentine was instrumental to his team’s success during the regular season, with a league-high 31 goal contributions. Acosta scored 17 himself and assisted 14 of the 57 scored by The Gary’s across the campaign. And he has also played a decisive role in the playoffs, with a goal, two assists and a success penalty a shootout in two matches against New York Red Bulls in Round One.
Cucho Hernández (Columbus Crew)
The Crew, however, are not too sluggish themselves when it comes to attacking firepower. In fact, that’s something of an understatement. Nancy’s men ended the season as the league’s top goalscorers with 67 goals, just shy of an average of two per Game. 16 of those came from Colombian forward Cucho Hernández, who also laid on 11 for his teammates. And the 24-year-old goes into the Eastern Conference in red-hot form having scored six times in his last six appearances.
Yerson Mosquera (FC Cincinnati)
It may be unorthodox to choose a defender as a player to watch, but given the Crew’s prowess up front, Cincinnati will have to have their wits about them at the back. And they’ll have to do it without MLS Defender of the Year Matt Miazga, who incurred a one-match suspension after being shown two yellow cards against NYRB in Round One but was hit with a additional three-match ban reportedly entering the officials’ locker room after the Game to remonstrate with the referee.
The onus will now be on Yerson Mosquera to keep compatriot Hernández quiet. The on-loan Wolves defender has taken Miazga’s place in the middle of the back three and will hope to build on a fine defensive display in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, in which he also happened to score an injury-time winner.
Aiden Morris (Columbus Crew)
The Crew have been widely praised for their possession play this year, which means there is a reasonable chance they will have more of the ball on Saturday, even away from home. Aiden Morris could therefore have a key role to play when they lose it, which will inevitable happen from time to time. Defensive work-rate and winning the ball back is what the young midfielder is renowned for and he will likely be the man tasked with ensuring those Cincinatti counterattacks don’t reach Acosta.
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