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FC Cincinnati falls to Columbus in the MLS Eastern Conference Final

ball going in net
Tana Weingartner
Luciano Acosta scores a second goal from a free kick in the first half.

After a hard fought battle on a chilly night in the Queen City, FC Cincinnati fell to in-state rivals the Columbus Crew in extra time, 3-2, despite leading for much of regulation.

Columbus fought back from a 2 goal deficit in the first half to earn the chance to host the 2023 MLS Cup on Dec. 9 at 4 p.m. at Field. Columbus will face the winner of the Western Conference Final, LAFC. The MLS Cup will be broadcast on Apple TV, Fox and Fox Deportes.

RELATED: FC Cincinnati's Luciano Acosta named MLS MVP

Hell is Real banner being raised in front of fans with white smoke
Tana Weingartner
Fans have dubbed any meeting of FC Cincinnati and the Columbus Crew as "Hell is Real," taken from a well-known billboard along I-71 between the two cities.

FCC got on the scoreboard early with Brandon Vazquez tucking the ball in the far corner in the 14th minute. MLS MVP Luciano Acosta added a second goal just before halftime to make the score 2-nil. Columbus stole one back in the 75th minute with an own goal started from a flick from the Crew's Christian Ramirez. The Crew weren't done there. Forward Diego Rossi tied the match 2-2 in the 86th minute, slotting a goal past goalkeeper Roman Celantano.

Christian Ramirez gave Columbus the lead, scoring the match-winner late in the second half of added time.

RELATED: FC Cincinnati's Pat Noonan wins MLS Coach of the Year

Speaking after the game, Noonan said his players gave everything they had.

“It was a strong season. We moved in the right direction. We were able to win a trophy which is important, but the goal was to win an MLS Cup and I think we were close and that's why it hurts. It hurts because of losing at home, hurts because of the scoreline mid-game and hurts because of who beat us tonight. So, there's a lot of things that have this a hard one to take. I feel for the guys, the staff, everybody in there who put a lot of hard work into positioning us to do something more. But it didn't happen.”

He says they'll start looking ahead in the coming weeks.

“I don't think a whole lot needs to change. Again, we've shown improvements and progress in this particular year that were better than 2022. And I think the group, and hopefully a large majority of them, are returning. I think they will understand now what it looks like to win and to expect to win and have the pressure to win, which is a good thing. It's never easy to have consistency in doing that in this league, but I think we have a group to do that. There'll be hard conversations in the coming days just because of how it ended, but we'll look at the beginning of 2024 with an immediate need to hit the ground running and be ready to move forward with Champions Cup."

It's been a banner season for FCC. In two years under Head Coach Pat Noonan the team has gone from being one of the worst in the league to bagging the team's first MLS hardware — the 2023 Supporters' Shield, awarded for the best regular season record.

Updated: December 2, 2023 at 11:52 PM EST
This story has been updated with quotations and to reflect the Western Conference winner LAFC will face Columbus in MLS Cup.
Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.