The 2023 MLS and MLS NEXT Pro seasons are coming into their final weeks and for many players, the opportunity to earn a larger role within the first team remains very much a possibility.
For many MLS clubs, the fight to get across the red line before Decision Day is still achievable. Teams such as FC Cincinnati, Philadelphia Union, and St. Louis CITY SC are sitting in a good position with just under two months of regular season action to go.
Others such as the Chicago Fire, Minnesota United, and Sporting Kansas City are on the outside looking in and could use a slight push to get into the postseason.
Several MLS NEXT Pro standouts have not only been key to their team’s seasons so far but could also be worthy of a first-team role over the final weeks of the MLS season. In addition, teams such as Toronto FC and Colorado Rapids might resort to young players to help get back into the playoff mix with frustrating seasons to date.
Here is a closer look at several MLS NEXT Pro standouts we could see during the final weeks of the MLS regular season:
New York City FC is still looking for someone to take control of the attacking front with a playoff spot up for grabs and Matthew Myers could be that player.
Myers currently leads the MLS NEXT Pro Golden Boot race with 16 goals scored in 24 appearances for NYCFC II. The 22-year-old was one of the new faces in Matt Pilkington’s squad this offseason and is a promising talent within the franchise.
NYCFC is still trying to replace the production left by Taty Castellanos and with nobody truly stepping up to the plate as of yet, Myers could receive an opportunity to fill that void.
The Colorado Rapids have endured a frustrating MLS campaign to date, which may lead Robin Fraser to giving young players an opportunity to end the season on a bright note.
While many players have been key for Colorado Rapids 2 in 2023, Oliver Larraz might be the most important in terms of goal production. Larraz, 21, has registered eight goals and eight assists (leads MLS NEXT Pro) to date for Rapids 2, who have already clinched a playoff spot.
Larraz has only four senior appearances for the Rapids to date but could add to that total if Rapids 2 are willing to let him depart before the MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs.
Not much has gone to plan for the Portland Timbers in 2023 and if they do want to get over the red line in the West, tightening up the backline is key.
Keesean Ferdinand has been one of the defensive leaders for Timbers2 in 2023, leading the team with 2,039 minutes to date and also sitting tied with 34 defensive interceptions. He’s also been involved in 169 duels.
A former CF Montreal academy player, Ferdinand has also played in the Canadian Premier League in the past, as well as with CF Montreal’s Under-23 side. Timbers2 are still fighting for a playoff spot in MLS NEXT Pro, which could hurt Ferdinand’s chances of jumping up to the first team.
However, he might be a key arrival for the Timbers if given the opportunity before the season’s end.
Atlanta United might need some added attacking help in order to make a run in the MLS Cup Playoffs and Nicolas Firmino is a player who could provide that.
Firmino has been one of the leading attacking stars in MLS NEXT Pro, contributing 14 goals and five assists for ATL UTD 2. Firmino still remains in the race for the MLS NEXT Pro Golden Boot award, sitting two goals behind NYCFC II’s Matthew Myers in that hunt.
He scored in his MLS debut back in June in the Five Stripes’ 2-2 draw with the New York Red Bulls, but hasn’t featured with the first team since. Firmino would be a welcomed addition to the first-team attacking corps that already features Thiago Almada, Georgios Giakoumakis, and several others.
The LA Galaxy will need everyone to perform at a high level if they want to make the MLS Cup Playoffs and the arrival of a young and thriving attacker might assist with that quest.
Aaron Bibout leads Galaxy II with 12 goals and five assists in 2023, remaining one of the key constants for the MLS NEXT Pro side. Bibout, 18, has endured a positive individual campaign for Galaxy II, who are needing a miracle to make the MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs.
Greg Vanney has provided opportunities to young players before and Bibout’s productivity could be what gives him his first true chance in MLS.
Nashville SC has several creative players in its squad, but one more wouldn’t hurt ahead of a potential return to the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Kemy Amiche has been influential for Huntsville City FC in MLS NEXT Pro, leading the team with six assists while also adding eight goals in 24 appearances. A deadly attacking midfielder, the 22-year-old Amiche has formed a strong partnership with Azaad Liadi in the Huntsville City FC attack, who have enjoyed a positive debut season.
Hany Mukhtar accounts for a lot in the Nashville SC attack, but Amiche could provide a new element with the postseason right around the corner.
West-leading St. Louis CITY SC have surpassed many expectations during its inaugural MLS season with several of last season’s CITY2 standouts playing a key role. John Klein looks set to become the next to follow in those footsteps.
Klein leads CITY2 with 12 goals this season, which has helped keep them in the MLS NEXT Pro Playoff Race. The 23-year-old enjoyed a positive collegiate career at Saint Louis University before playing for several developmental teams ahead of his signing with CITY SC.
Kyle Hiebert, Aziel Jackson, and Celio Pompeu are just a handful of CITY SC first-team players who made the jump from MLS NEXT Pro last offseason. Klein’s production in 2023 might be what helps him become the next key contributor for Bradley Carnell’s overachievers this fall.
The long-term injury to Colorado Rapids No. 1 goalkeeper William Yarbrough could open the door to 17-year-old Adam Beaudry earning his chance with the first team.
Beaudry, a U.S. youth national team player, has made 13 starts for West-leading Rapids 2 this season in MLS NEXT Pro. He’s registered three clean sheets this season to go along with 27 saves.
Marko Ilic and Abraham Rodriguez might receive the opportunities from Robin Fraser, but with the Rapids all but out of the playoff race, a closer look at Beaudry could be important ahead of 2024.
Minnesota United 2 has relied on Diogo Pacheco’s playmaking abilities over each of the last two seasons, but he looks ready for a jump to the big show.
Pacheco has scored 11 goals and registered nine assists in 43 MLS NEXT Pro appearances for MNUFC2, with eight goals and four assists coming in 2023. Cameron Knowles’ squad remains well in the playoff race, but so does the Loons' first team under Adrian Heath.
Emmanuel Iwe and Cameron Dunbar have earned their opportunities with the first team and Pacheco should be high on that list to earn his chance.
Orlando City might need additional defensive help for the final weeks of the season and Nabi Kabunguchy could provide that assistance.
Kabunguchy, 25, played for MNUFC2 in 2022 before joining Orlando City during the offseason. A versatile centerback, Kabunguchy has tied his career-high with four goals scored in 2023 for Orlando City B and has surpassed over 1,900 minutes this season.
His added experience could prove important for Oscar Pareja’s backline with eight weeks to go.