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MLS Conference Semifinals preview: Eight teams remain in the hunt

The MLS season is nearing its conclusion and the playoffs gather pace this weekend with four Conference Semifinals on the cards.

Orlando takes on Columbus Crew and FC Cincinnati lock horns with Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference, before Sporting Kansas face Houston Dynamo and LAFC encounter Seattle in a Western Conference double-header.

Orlando City vs Columbus Crew

WhereExploria Stadium, Orlando, Florida
When5:30 PM ET, Saturday, November 25
How to watchApple TV
OddsOrlando +120 ML, Draw +260 ML, Columbus +200 ML

This MLS Eastern Conference semi-final is a case of irresistible force meets immovable object and the encounter between Orlando City and Columbus Crew at the Exploria Stadium should not disappoint.

The match pits the defensive resilience of Orlando against the swashbuckling attacking flair of Columbus Crew and it is expected to be a close one.

Orlando conceded the fifth-fewest goals (39) during the regular MLS season and are yet to concede in the playoffs, with Pedro Gallese having been in inspired form between the sticks.

As for the Crew, their tally of 67 goals was the best during the regular season and they won their triple-header with Atlanta United 8-6.

Colombian forward Cucho Hernandez in particular has been in excellent form, but will need to be at his best if Columbus are to defeat an Orlando side who finished six points better off during the regular season.

FC Cincinnati vs Philadelphia Union

WhereTQL Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
When8 PM ET, Saturday, November 25
How to watchApple TV
OddsCincinnati -118 ML, Draw +300 ML, Philadelphia +260 ML

In the other MLS Eastern Conference semi-final, Cincinnati are fancied to get the better of Philadelphia Union and for good reason.

Cincinnati were the standout team during the regular season, winning 20 of their 34 regular-season assignments and scoring 57 goals in the process.

In the playoffs, they beat New York Red Bulls 3-0 in Game 1 and then 8-7 on penalties following a 1-1 draw in Game 2 and they are through on merit.

Philadelphia, though, will be hoping to make their added experience count.

They defeated Cincinnati in the playoffs last year before winning their Conference Final with New York City to participate in the MLS Cup.

They fell at the last hurdle but will be hoping to make amends for that penalty-shootout loss to LAFC.

Both teams are also missing key personnel for this contest with Matt Miazga suspended for Cincinnati and Jakob Glesnes and Kai Wagner out for Philadelphia, so do not rule out a surprise result.

Houston Dynamo vs Sporting Kansas City

WhereShell Energy Stadium, Houston, Texas
When7 PM ET, Sunday, November 26
How to watchApple TV
OddsHouston -125 ML, Draw +280 ML, Kansas City +320 ML

After finishing eighth in the Western Conference regular season, Sporting Kansas City have done remarkably well to reach this stage of the playoffs and their reward is a Western Conference semi-final against Houston Dynamo.

SKC took down divisional champions St Louis City in two matches most recently, winning the first 4-1 and the second 2-1, and Dynamo will have their work cut out.

The Texans finished fourth in the Western Conference, though, and are favoured to take the spoils after edging past Real Salt Lake.

Both sides like to control possession, with Hector Herrera the main man in the Dynamo camp and it will be intriguing to see which side can offer more attacking thrust and snatch the win.

Seattle Sounders vs Los Angeles FC

WhereLumen Field, Seattle, Washington
When9:30 PM ET, Sunday, November 26
How to watchApple TV
OddsSeattle +140 ML, Draw +250 ML, Los Angeles +175 ML

This has the makings of an MLS playoff classic.

Defending MLS Cup winners Los Angeles FC did not have the smoothest campaign but managed to secure third spot in the Western Conference, just one point behind the Seattle Sounders.

They went on to defeat Vancouver Whitecaps 6-2 on aggregate in the playoffs to set up a date with the Sounders, who got the better of FC Dallas in their three-match series.

Brian Schmetzer is an experienced coach who knows what works best for his side, but LAFC are littered with stars, few more exciting than Golden Boot winner Denis Bouanga, who will be a danger during LAFC's quick transitions.

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