'Hell' week: FC Cincinnati, Crew meet for MLS Cup berth

League: MLS

Posted on: 01 Dec, 2023 at 10:58 PM

Credit: Albert Cesare/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

The stakes have never been higher in the Ohio derby known as "Hell Is Real" when FC Cincinnati hosts the Columbus Crew on Saturday in the Eastern Conference final for the right to host MLS Cup a week later.

Supporters' Shield winners FC Cincinnati once again will be without 2023 MLS Defender of the Year Matt Miazga, who was suspended an additional three matches this week.

Miazga sat out the Eastern Conference semifinal against the Philadelphia Union because of yellow-card accumulation in the first-round series against the New York Red Bulls. The league issued additional sanctions for confronting game officials after the New York match.

FC Cincinnati earned a 1-0 victory over the Union in Miazga's absence and will face the Crew, who led MLS in goals during the regular season but needed extra time to defeat Orlando City 2-0 in another conference semifinal last week.

The winner Saturday will play either defending champion Los Angeles FC or the Houston Dynamo from the Western Conference in the Dec. 9 MLS Cup.

In addition to Miazga's season honors, Cincinnati is also home to MLS MVP Luciano Acosta, who led the league with 31 goal contributions (17 goals, 14 assist).

In his MVP acceptance speech, Acosta sent an indirect warning 100 miles up Interstate 71 to Columbus.

"We have not achieved all of our goals, and we can't wait to get back onto the field this Saturday and take FC Cincinnati to the MLS Cup," he said. "We have bigger things that we're striving to achieve."

The Crew are led by MLS Best 11 forward Cucho Hernandez. He had 16 goals and 11 assists in the regular season and has four goals and one assist in four postseason matches.

Crew coach Wilfried Nancy said the rivalry makes it an easy week to coach.

"This is something that I like because I don't have to motivate the players for anything. So, they are ready for that," Nancy said. "I'm proud and happy that, hopefully it's going to be us, but one of the winners are going to be in Ohio, so this is good for this and we'll see."

-- Field Level Media