Crew stun FC Cincinnati with 3-2 victory in OT to advance to MLS Cup Final

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CINCINNATI (AP) — Christian Ramírez scored in the 115th minute and the Columbus Crew rallied from two goals down to beat top-seeded FC Cincinnati 3-2 on Saturday night to advance to the MLS Cup Final.

Columbus (17-9-9), which has won two Cups in three previous trips to the final, will host next Saturday's championship match against the winner of the Western Conference Final between defending-champion Los Angeles FC and the Houston Dynamo.

It was the second-seeded Crew's ninth conference final, second only to the 13 of the Los Angeles Galaxy. It was the first time in league history that in-state rivals played for a conference title.

Brandon Vazquez scored in the 14th minute with an assist from Aaron Boupendza to give Cincinnati (20-6-9) the lead. League MVP Luciano Acosta took a pass from Álvaro Barreal and scored in the third minute of stoppage time to give the Supporters' Shield winners a 2-0 lead at halftime.

Cincinnati appeared to take a 3-0 lead in the 69th minute, but a hand-ball foul on Aaron Boupendza erased the goal. Six minutes later the Crew pulled within 2-1 on an own-goal by Cincinnati defender Alvas Powell.

Diego Rossi netted the equalizer for Columbus when he scored unassisted in the 86th minute. Rossi scored 10 minutes into the second half of two 15-minute OT periods. Cucho Hernández and Kevin Molino picked up assists on Ramírez's winner.

Patrick Schulte finished with five saves for the Crew. Roman Celentano stopped five shots for Cincinnati.

Cincinnati played without Matt Miazga, who was voted the league’s top defender this season. Miazga began serving a three-match suspension handed out by the league on Wednesday and carrying over to the 2024 season. Miazga was suspended for misconduct after an 8-7 shootout win over the New York Red Bulls in a Nov. 4 playoff match.

The Crew entered play 0-5-1 when trailing at the half this season. Cincinnati was 11-0-0 this season when leading at halftime.

Columbus is 7-2-4 all time against its rival in a series known as the Hell is Real Derby. Cincinnati has gone 2-1-3 in its last six home matchups with Columbus. The Crew's only previous win in Cincinnati was a 3-1 victory in August of 2019 in the first meeting.

Wilfried Nancy is the sixth different head manager to take the Crew to a conference final — a league record.

Hernández had a three-match scoring streak on the road come to an end. He was trying to join CF Montreal's Ignacio Piatti (2016) as the only players to score in three straight playoff matches away from home.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer