Eastern Conference Final preview: FC Cincinnati vs Columbus Crew preview: How to watch, team news, predicted lineups, kickoff time and ones to watch
A general view of TQL Stadium/Photo: Ben Hsu/Iconsportswire via Getty Images

The biggest match in the Hell is Real rivalry sees FC Cincinnati host the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference final at TQL Stadium.

Meeting in a knockout stage match for the first time since the Orange and Blue joined MLS in 2019, the winner of this 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs match will host next Saturday's MLS Cup final.

Cincinnati have gone undefeated in the postseason, sweeping the New York Red Bulls in the first round before a controversial 1-0 victory over Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference semifinals. 

For Columbus, they needed the full three games to dispose of Atlanta United in the first round before a 2-0 extra time win at Orlando City last weekend.

Either defending MLS champions LAFC or the Houston Dynamo who will contest the Western Conference final, await the winner in MLS Cup.

Team news

FC Cincinnati

Earlier this week, forward Luciano Acosta was named MLS MVP for a brilliant season that saw him score 17 goals while also collecting 14 assists.

MLS Defender of the Year Matt Miazga is out for the remainder of the playoffs after being suspended for his actions following the Game 2 victory over the Red Bulls.

Obinna Nwobodo and Santiago Arias are questionable as both deal with leg injuries while Nick Hagglund is battling a hamstring strain.

Columbus Crew

Homegrown midfielder Will Sands is the only player out for the Crew as he is dealing with a knee injury.

Predicted lineups

FC Cincinnati: Celentano; Murphy, Mosquera, Powell; Barreal, Moreno, Kubo, Arias; Acosta; Boupendza, Vazquez

Columbus Crew: Schulte; Amundsen, Camacho, Moreira; Yeboah, Morris, Nagbe, Farsi; Mățan, Rossi; Hernández

Ones to watch

Luciano Acosta (FC Cincinnati)

The best player in MLS in 2023, the Argentine, as mentioned above, was the runaway winner of the MVP award and looks to advance to his first MLS Cup final, continuing a magical season for himself and the club. 

Photo: Ben Hsu/Iconsportswire via Getty Images
Photo: Ben Hsu/Iconsportswire via Getty Images

Cucho Hernandez (Columbus Crew)

Already with four goals in the Columbus' four games, he's in perhaps his best form of the season at exactly the right time for the league's highest-scoring team.

Photo: Kirk Irwin/Getty Images
Photo: Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Previous meetings

This is the rubber match as each team won at home with Cincinnati edging a 3-2 result while Columbus dominated in a 3-0 victory.

On May 20, Acosta scored twice in a six-minute span to give the Orange and Blue a 2-0 lead before Lucas Zelarayan and Malte Amundsen leveled for the Crew.

Cincinnati would win it when Acosta stole the ball from Columbus goalkeeper Patrick Schulte and after a sequence of passes, Junior Moreno finished for the Supporters Shield winners' MLS-record eighth straight home win to start the season.

On October 20, Columbus would exact revenge as Aidan Morris opened the scoring after receiving a return pass from Yaw Yeboah and slotting home.

Eight minutes later, Cucho Hernandez beat Roman Celentano from the penalty spot after Alvaro Barreal was called for a handball and the scoring was complete in second-half stoppage time through Jacen Russell-Rowe.

How to watch

The match will be streamed nationally on Apple TV + with Jake Zivin serving as the play-by-play announcer and Taylor Twellman as analyst.

Kickoff is set for 6pm Eastern time.