The MLS Cup finals will be played in Ohio for just the fourth time in league history, but whether it's played in southern or middle Ohio is what is on the line Saturday night at TQL Stadium.
The rematch between rival clubs will not only serve as the deciding third game the two teams played against each other this season, as both clubs finished higher in the Supporters' Shield standings than the Western Conference Finals clubs, a win earns you the right to host the MLS Cup.
The all-Ohio rivalry will receive another historic chapter as the clubs will meet in a knockout stage match for the first time since FC Cincinnati joined MLS in 2019, marking another milestone in one of MLS's fiercest rivalries.
"There's some nice storylines attached to this but I think both teams have been strong all year and deserve to be in this position to compete in the conference finals," FCC head coach Pat Noonan said Thursday. "I know our group is looking forward to it. Of course, on top of the conference finals, you're talking about a rivalry game, which is unique at this stage.
"We're embracing that. I know the atmosphere in (TQL Stadium) is going to be electric and hopefully our performance can send a strong fanbase home happy."
The match will be the second at TQL Stadium this season after FC Cincinnati took down Columbus 3-2 on May 20, thanks to a brace from 2023 MLS MVP Luciano Acosta and a 67th minute winner from Junior Moreno.
Columbus brings their signature firepower to the showdown, having led the league in scoring with 67 goals, but in a battle of star number 10s, Noonan feels a winning team will be the one that finds ways to integrate the entire team.
"We'll look for ways to get (Acosta) on the ball to help create for us, but it can't just be about forcing plays into Lucho," Noonan said. "We have other guys; we have other weapons. We need to have an understanding of the right moments to get him on the ball, and then the right moments to have confidence in the entirety of our group to make plays.
FC CINCINNATI vs. Columbus Crew – Saturday, December 2, 2023 – 6:00 p.m. ET – TQL Stadium
HOW TO WATCH
Stream: MLS Season Pass on Apple TV
Apple TV Talent (English): Jake Zivin (PXP) & Taylor Twellman (Analysis)
Apple TV Talent (Spanish): Sammy Sadovnik (PXP) & Diego Valeri (Analysis)
Radio Talent: Tom Gelehrter (play-by-play), Kevin McCloskey (analyst)
The all-Ohio rivalry will get another historic chapter when Columbus Crew comes to TQL Stadium for a knockout stage game for the first time in the two clubs' history.
In two meetings this season, FC Cincinnati and Columbus Crew split the series with a win-a-piece at their home grounds, with FCC prevailing 3-2 at TQL Stadium and falling 3-0 at Lower.Com Field.
The Eastern Conference Finals showdown will also be the first time FCC and The Crew will face off in an elimination game since the 2017 U.S. Open Cup when then USL side FCC won 1-0 at Nippert Stadium.
Since joining MLS, Columbus Crew have won the all-time series 6-2-4, but when the matchup is played in the Queen City, The Orange and Blue are 2-1-3 against their in-state rivals.
In the last matchup at TQL Stadium, the MLS MVP Luciano Acosta scored twice to help secure the victory, and Roman Celentano made his 2023 MLS Save of the Year in the 93-minute to lock up the win.
FC CINCINNATI NOTES
Home Field Advantage – With the top seed in MLS and the Supporters Shield in hand, the MLS Cup and the MLS Cup Playoffs run through TQL Stadium as The Orange and Blue would host all but one playoff match at home.
Across all competitions, FCC is 19-2-5 at TQL Stadium, with a 16-2-5 record against MLS teams this season.
FCC has also allowed the third-fewest goals at home this season (13) and owns the best home-winning percentage among MLS teams across all competitions (.894).
Te Quiero Mucho Lucho, MVP – FC Cincinnati’s captain Luciano Acosta won the clubs first ever Landon Donovan MLS MVP award the league announced Monday. Acosta led all MLS players with 31 goal contributions on route to earning the first Supporters’ Shield title in FC CIncinnati history.
In addition to MVP, FC Cincinnati personnel have earned a bevy of awards, including Acosta (Goal of the Year), Roman Celentano (Save of the Year), Matt Miazga (Defender of the Year) and Pat Noonan (Coach of the Year).
Do it in the playoffs – With goals in game one of the series with RBNY, Luciano Acosta and Álvaro Barreal now lead FC Cincinnati in all-time playoff goals with two a piece. With a match winning goal Saturday, Yerson Mosquera became the fifth member of The Orange and Blue to score a goal, joining Acosta, Barreal, Aaron Boupendza and Brandon Vazquez.18 FC Cincinnati players have made appearances in the MLS Cup Playoffs for any club, totaling 8739 minutes of game action.
Second Half Stalwarts – FC Cincinnati finished the regular season allowing just 10 goals in the second half this season, the second-fewest in MLS history, and hold a +27 goal difference in the second half this year, the fourth best all-time.
In the opening match of the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs, FCC continued their strong second-half play. Earning a clean sheet and scoring late to improve to +1 in 2023 postseason play.
SCOUTING Columbus Crew (No. 3 Seed EASTERN CONFERENCE)
Columbus Crew earned their spot in the Eastern Conference Finals by defeating Atlanta United two games to one in Round One of the MLS Cup Playoffs, then taking down second-seeded Orlando City SC in extra time 2-0 at Exploria Stadium. This is the ninth time The Crew have played in the Conference Finals, but only the third since 2008. In the previous nine appearances, they have only advanced to the finals twice but won MLS Cups in both cases (2020, 2008).
In the Eastern Conference Semifinal, Columbus benefitted from a 77th-minute Red Card to Orlando City’s Robert Schlegel and played the remainder of regular time and all of extra time with a man advantage. Crew star Christian Ramírez scored in the 93 minute to give Columbus the lead, and Cucho Hernandez doubled the lead in the 118 minute to ice the game and provide the Crew with a victory.
The Crew were an offensive juggernaut this season, leading MLS with 67 goals and a +21 goal differential. 15 players scored a goal for Columbus this season, with 11 scoring multiple and five scoring four or more. Hernandez (better known by the mononym Cucho) led Columbus with 16 goals. However, second-leading scorer Lucas Zelarayán was transferred to Al-Fateh of the Saudi Pro League in the summer transfer window.
At home this season, Columbus was excellent, earning a 12-1-4 record at Lower.Com Field, but were far more volatile when on the road, owning a 4-8-5 record when away from the state capitol.
Patrick Schulte mans the metal for Columbus Crew and started 31 of 34 regular season matches, including the final 30 of the year. A first-round selection and Generation Adidalink
s player out of Saint Louis University in 2022, Schulte earned 7 clean sheets and made 90 saves after not appearing in MLS play in 2022.
In his first season with The Crew, head coach Wilfried Nancy was nominated for Coach of the Year (an award ultimately won by FCC’s Pat Noonan) and has led Columbus to a 16-9-9 record in the regular season and the third seed in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Nancy spent two seasons as head coach of CF Montreal but had been with the Canadian side since 2011 before moving to Columbus at the end of 2022.