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Christian Ramírez scores conference title for Columbus Crew, who will face Los Angeles FC in MLS Cup Final

Christian Ramírez scored the winning goal, then held the Eastern Conference championship trophy aloft while celebrating with his Crew teammates.Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

CINCINNATI — 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 win the Eastern Conference Final and advance to the MLS Cup Final.

Ramírez scored 10 minutes into the second half of two 15-minute OT periods. Cucho Hernández and Kevin Molino picked up assists on the winner.

Columbus (17-9-9), which has won two Cups in three previous trips to the final, will host next Saturday’s championship match against defending champion Los Angeles FC, a 2-0 winner in the Western Conference Final over the Houston Dynamo.

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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.

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 Wednesday and carrying over to the 2024 season. He was suspended for misconduct after an 8-7 shootout win over the New York Red Bulls in a Nov. 4 playoff match.

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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.

Boston Globe Today: Sports | December 1, 2023
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