The Eastern Conference final is now upon us. Over the course of the regular campaign, 15 teams battled it out, before nine of those reached the playoffs, and now just two remain. On Saturday (6pm ET), FC Cincinnati takes on the Columbus Crew, but who will be crowned kings of the east and earn the right to play for MLS Cup glory? Read on for our big-game preview with betting predictions and picks.
Playoff form so far
It has been a rather straightforward journey for Cincinnati in the playoffs, which was probably to be expected given that they finished top of the conference after 34 games. They made light work of their three-game series against the Red Bulls, getting the job done in two games, recording a thumping 3-0 win at TQL Stadium in the process. Last time out they had more on their plate against a very useful Philadelphia Union side, but they dug deep and showed another side to their game, one that allowed them to grind out a less glamorous victory. After fighting for that 1-0 win, they look well equipped to deal with the demands of this fixture, though they will need to be at the races from the word go, as the Crew are no slouches.
Columbus Crew needed three games to get the job done against Atlanta United, and it was only the fact that two of the games were played on home soil that allowed them to flex their muscles. On the road in that series, they found life tough, conceding four goals on their way to suffering defeat. Having returned the favor in Columbus, the Crew set up a tussle with Orlando City, and what a tussle it was. There was hardly anything between the two teams that finished second and third at the end of the regular campaign, as they were locked together at 0-0 after 90 minutes, before Wilfried Nancy’s men found extra in the additional 30 minutes, scoring twice through Christian Ramirez and the ever-reliable Cucho, who took his goal tally to 20 for the campaign.
Cincinnati home record hard to knock
As the team that came into the postseason top of the pile in the east, Cincinnati naturally made use of playing at home more often than not during the regular season. They only failed to win four of their 17 games at TQL Stadium, losing just twice, scoring a very solid 33 goals and conceding only 13. Only one Eastern Conference team finished the regular season with a better defensive record in terms of goals conceded
Since things have heated up in the playoffs, Pat Noonan’s men have been very strong at home, winning two out of two, scoring four goals, conceding none in the process. Such numbers are impressive when we consider that they have taken on two strong teams.
Visiting Columbus Crew not quite doing it on the road
The Crew know how to do business in the postseason, but their away record is a worry. If this game was at home, then things would be different, but they are nowhere near as strong on their travels and there is no escaping that fact. During the regular season, they won just four of their 17 away games, and only one of the four teams that they beat on the road made it to the postseason. More worrying still, they conceded a whopping average of 1.88 goals per away game, compared to the 0.76 goals conceded at home by Saturday’s hosts.
What happened earlier in the season?
This is of course the third time that the pair have faced off this season. Earlier in the campaign, Cincinnati won by three goals to two at home, emerging victorious thanks largely to a brace from the always impressive Luciano Acosta. In the reverse fixture, the Crew won by three goals to nil, though they enjoyed the home advantage that night and this will naturally be a lot harder.
Hosts FC Cincinnati to keep going
Of course, there is not too much between the pair, with them finishing only two places apart at the end of the regular season, and if this fixture was on neutral ground, there probably wouldn’t be a big favorite in the odds with the USA sports betting sites. As it stands, the hosts are relatively strong favorites, but given how strong they have been at home this term, and in the postseason, it’s easy to feel that they’re a little generously priced.
Sure, when the teams met at this venue earlier in the campaign, the Crew certainly competed, but they no longer have talisman Lucas Zelarayan, who was their best player in that game and had been their key man for a couple of campaigns. They have got this far without the tricky Argentinian, who left for Saudi Arabia in late July, but this is their toughest test yet. Without a player of that level who is capable of turning a game on its head with a moment of brilliance, they look a little light, especially with this being at Cincinnati’s home ground. In Luciano Acosta, the hosts also have one of those players.
The Crew found it tough on the road during the previous round, losing heavily to Atlanta and their overall away-day efforts in recent times suggest that they lack the defensive security to challenge the hosts at TQL Stadium. Moreover, they have not offered the same level of offensive power on the road as the Cincinnati squad have at home.
With the hosts winning 13 out of 17 at home during the regular season, beating the Columbus Crew in front of a home crowd, and winning two out of two in convincing style in the playoffs, the home win is hard to ignore, especially when we factor in the visitors have picked up just four away wins all campaign. So the betting picks and predictions for this Eastern Conference final soccer preview are: