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MLS Cup Playoffs update: FC Cincinnati and Columbus Crew leave it late to progress

After a turbulent regular season and a cracking opening round of playoffs, MLS played its Conference Semifinals games over the weekend.

Matches took place in Florida, Ohio, Texas and Washington on Saturday and Sunday and we now know which four teams will be competing in Conference Finals.

In the Eastern Conference final, FC Cincinnati will face Columbus Crew while this year's Western Conference final pits reigning champions Los Angeles FC against Houston Dynamo.

Here is a look at how the weekend's games unfolded and what we can expect from their next batch of games.

Super-sub Ramirez helps Columbus to late win

The first MLS Eastern Conference semi-final was a cagey contest as Orlando City and Columbus Crew could not be separated after 90 minutes at the Exploria Stadium.

The match had been billed as an 'unstoppable force meets immovable object' encounter with Orlando's defence among the best in the division and Columbus having scored more goals (67) than any other Eastern Conference side during the regular season.

And it was Orlando's defence which stood firm initially only for a change from head coach Wilfried Nancy to make the difference in extra-time.

Columbus had a man advantage from the 77th minute onwards following Rodrigo Schlegel's sending off for Orlando and they made it count.

Christian Ramirez was brought on at the start of the additional 30 minutes and took only three minutes to strike, putting the Crew 1-0 up, and they capped off the scoring when Cucho Hernandez scored a second in the 118th minute.

Orlando goalkeeper Pedro Gallese had joined the Orlando attack but when Columbus regained possession, former Watford FC player Hernandez floated a shot from the center circle to bag his fourth goal of the playoffs.

The win was Columbus Crew's first on the road in the playoffs since 2002.

Supporters' Shield winners march on

Columbus Crew will face FC Cincinnati in an all-Ohio MLS Eastern Conference Final after the Supporters' Shield winners edged Philadelphia Union 1-0 on Saturday.

Cincy were the standout team during the MLS regular season, winning 20 of their 34 matches. They were pushed to their limits by the Union, who were runners-up in the MLS Cup Final last season.

Goalkeeper Roman Celentano, a rookie last season, was called into action on more that one occasion for Cincinnati, having made four saves in the match to keep the Union at bay.

And with pulses racing, Cincy snatched the win at the death when rookie defender Yerson Mosquera fired home from close range following a scramble at a set piece.

Fans of Cincinnati will remember last season's 1-0 loss to Philadelphia in the MLS playoffs and will be pleased to have avenged the defeat.

Stellar Sporting Kansas City run comes to an end

Houston Dynamo finished four places and seven points better off than Sporting Kansas City in the MLS Western Conference regular season, so it perhaps came as no surprise that the Texans came out on top in their playoff encounter.

That said, it was not a straightforward 1-0 win and certainly not one without controversy.

Franco Escobar scored what turned out to be the decisive goal of the game in the 39th minute but it was a couple of minutes later when one of the key moments of the game occurred.

Daniel Salloi's goal-bound effort was thought to have been handled in the box by Houston's Erik Sviatchenko but nothing was given by the match official.

SKC head coach Peter Vermes was not pleased after the game, insisting it should have been a red card and a penalty and that could well have turned the game around.

Ultimately, though, it is Dynamo who progress and they can celebrate a massive improvement on last season when they finished 13th in the Western Conference.

Defending champions LAFC back in Conference Finals

The final match in the MLS Conference semi-finals had the potential to be the best with juggernauts Seattle Sounders and Los Angeles FC clashing at Lumen Field.

But it was once again a gritty and low-scoring affair and became the third MLS Conference semi-final to be settled by a 1-0 scoreline as Golden Boot winner Denis Bouanga struck in the 30th minute for LAFC.

It was a goal which came against the run of play as the Sounders dominated with 70 percent possession and won the shot count 16-7.

Indeed, it was not Bouanga but rather goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau who was the star of the show for LAFC, having pulled off some incredible stops to keep out the hosts.

It came one year on from Crepeau's leg break suffered while committing a challenge that got him a red card in the MLS Cup final - an injury which meant he missed his team's title celebrations and the chance to feature at the World Cup for Canada. Plus, his replacement John McCarthy saved two Union penalties in the shootout to win the MLS Cup Final MVP Award.

It was no surprise then that this time around Crepeau cut a determined figure.

Looking to become the first side since rivals LA Galaxy in 2012 to win back-to-back MLS Cups, LAFC will now lock horns with Houston Dynamo in the Western Conference Final and Crepeau will undoubtedly play a critical role in the game.

Looking to the MLS winner market and Los Angeles FC are +137 to win the title this season, with FC Cincinnati +150, Columbus Crew +350 and Houston Dynamo at +800.

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