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MLS Cup Playoffs Conference Finals preview: LA hosts Houston out West, Ohio Rivalry in the East

The MLS Cup is nearly upon us and after this weekend, we will know which two teams will be battling it out for glory next Saturday.

Only four teams remain in the MLS Cup playoffs with FC Cincinnati and Columbus Crew set to battle it out in an all-Ohio affair in the Eastern Conference final, while this year's Western Conference final will be contested by Houston Dynamo and defending champions Los Angeles FC.

It should be a gripping weekend of matches and here is a look at how both semi-final contests could unfold.

Stakes are high in crucial 'Hell is Real' derby

WhatFC Cincinnati vs Columbus Crew
WhereTQL Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
When6:00 PM ET, Saturday, December 2
How to watchApple TV
OddsFC Cincinnati +125 ML, Columbus Crew +230 ML

The 'Hell is Real' derby as it's known has only been going since 2019, when FC Cincinnati joined Major League Soccer, and this weekend's edition will be the fiercest yet.

These two Ohio-based outfits have been terrific all season - Cincy topped the Eastern Conference standings with 69 points, while Columbus Crew placed third in the same division.

As both clubs achieved more points than the two teams competing in the MLS Western Conference final, the winners of this encounter can also look forward to hosting this year's MLS Cup, which is destined for Ohio either way.

The clubs are tough to separate - Cincy had the better regular season but one could argue it is Columbus Crew who have laid down a marker in the playoffs, taking down Atlanta United and Orlando City en route to this semi-final.

FC Cincinnati can be backed at +125 ML, while Columbus Crew are +230 to win..

With 20 wins recorded in the regular season, it has been a year to remember for FC Cincinnati but they had to rely on a 94th-minute winner from center back Yerson Mosquera to beat Philadelphia Union in the Conference Semifinals.

As for the Crew, they dominated their away match against Orlando, eventually coming out on top thanks to goals from Christian Ramirez and Cucho Hernandez in extra time.

Hernandez has scored four times in the MLS Cup Playoffs and he is +250 to score at anytime and +500 to score first.

Columbus Crew were 3-0 winners when these sides last met back in August and will be hoping for a repeat on Saturday as they look to feature in the MLS Cup for the first time since 2020, when they beat the Seattle Sounders 3-0 on their own pitch.

Cutting edge could be key for defending champions LAFC

WhatLos Angeles FC vs Houston Dynamo
WhereBMO Stadium
When9:30 PM ET, Saturday, December 2
How to watchApple TV 
OddsLos Angeles FC -167 ML, Houston Dynamo +375 ML

It was at their home stadium last November that Los Angeles FC lifted the MLS Cup for the first time, beating Philadelphia 3-0 on penalties after a pulsating 3-3 draw.

In the offseason, however, LAFC had to undergo somewhat of a rebuild with Gareth Bale retiring and recognisable faces such as Jose Cifuentes, Latif Blessing and Sebastien Ibeagha all moving on to pastures new.

As all good clubs do, LAFC adapted and, despite strong seasons from St Louis City and Seattle Sounders, they eased into the playoffs in third spot in the Western Conference and have not looked back.

Counting on their experience, LAFC took down both Vancouver and Seattle in the MLS playoffs and only Houston Dynamo stand between them and a second successive year in the MLS Cup.

It has been a tremendous year for the Dynamo, who went from finishing 13th in the 2022 Western Conference standings to placing fourth this year.

They have made life tough for themselves in the playoffs, having been taken to penalties twice by Real Salt Lake in Round 1 before edging a stubborn Sporting Kansas City side 1-0 in the Conference Semifinals, but they are here and ready to fight.

In Artur and influential talent Hector Herrera, Houston Dynamo arguably boast the best midfield left in the MLS Playoffs and there's a chance they will see more of the ball than LAFC in LA this weekend.

But it will be the cutting edge in both boxes which will win this game and in Denis Bouanga, LAFC have the division's most prolific attacking player.

Bouanga has scored 20 goals in MLS this season, making him the division's top scorer, and he already has four goals to his name in the playoffs.

He is a +300 shot to score the first goal of the game and can be backed at -105 to score at anytime.

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