2024 MLS NEXT Pro Opening Night Recap

Austin FC II (2)

The 2024 MLS NEXT Pro season got underway on Friday night with six teams kicking off the new campaign.

In the headlining match of the night, Tacoma Defiance used a pair of second-half goals to defeat reigning MLS NEXT Pro Cup winners Austin FC II by a 3-1 scoreline at Parmer Field. Stuart Hawkins delivered the opening goal of the 2024 regular season before Faysal Bettache and Gio Miglietti added tallies of their own. 

Sebastien Pineau’s ejection in the 52nd minute reduced Austin FC II to 10 men and eventually led to Tacoma Defiance grabbing a 1-0 advantage. Hawkins’ headed finish after Burke Fahling struck the crossbar gave Herve Diese’s squad a lead on the road.

Offseason signing Bettache doubled Tacoma’s lead in the 75th minute after he finished off a fast break by the Defiance. Georgi Munoungou’s pass was slotted home by Bettache into the bottom-right corner for a 2-0 lead.

Bryan Arellano cut the deficit in half for Brett Uttley’s men with seven minutes to play, but the extra man advantage helped the Defiance reclaim a two-goal advantage.

Miglietti’s rebound finish in second-half stoppage time would seal a statement victory for Tacoma Defiance. Kalani Kossa-Rienzi’s original effort was saved by Marcus Alstrup, but Miglietti arrived on the spot to slot home the rebound.

Tacoma will return home for a March 24 showdown with Colorado Rapids 2 while Austin FC II hosts Foro SC in U.S. Open Cup play midweek.

North Texas SC (0), Whitecaps FC 2 (0) - Whitecaps FC 2 win 4-2 in shootout

Whitecaps FC 2

North Texas SC hosted Whitecaps FC 2 in the opening match of the night, but it was the visitors who walked away with two points from Choctaw Stadium. Max Anchor made five saves including two in the shootout as Whitecaps FC 2 edged NTX 4-2 on spot kicks. 

After a slow first half from both sides, offensive opportunities began to rise in the second half. Jay Herdman and Tarik Scott were both denied chances to score the opening goal of the regular season before Scott was also repelled a second time by Anchor. 

Tomas Pondeca’s long-range effort in second-half stoppage time was gathered by Anchor as the two teams needed a shootout to decide a winner.

Anchor came up clutch twice for Ricardo Clark’s men, denying Carl Sainte’s first round effort before also denying Anthony Ramirez in the third round. 

Lowell Wright scored the deciding goal in the fifth round, giving Whitecaps FC 2 two points to start the 2024 campaign. 

North Texas SC will aim to rebound on March 24 at St. Louis CITY2 while Whitecaps FC 2 hosts Real Monarchs on March 23.

Real Monarchs (0), Timbers2 (0) - Real Monarchs win 5-4 in shootout

Real Monarchs

Real Monarchs also walked away with two points in Friday’s action, edging Timbers2 5-4 in a shootout at Zions Bank Stadium. 

17-year-old goalkeeper Francisco Delgado made two key shoutout saves while Monarchs went a 5-of-6 from the spot. Josh Penn’s first round chance was repelled by Delgado before Victor Enriquez suffered the same result in the sixth and final round. 

Despite Griffin Dillon striking the left post in the fifth round, Mark Lowry’s men hung on for a crucial two points. 

Monarchs had the best scoring chances of the first half, but Timbers2 goalkeeper Ryan Bilichuk was up to the task. First, Bilichuk denied Luca Moisa’s effort in the 10th minute before also denying Ilijah Paul’s scoring chance 10 minutes before halftime.

Enriquez and Zack Farnsworth traded opportunities after halftime as the score remained goal-less heading into a shootout. 

Delgado, who is eligible for both the United States and Mexico on the international level, rose to the occasion in a big way on opening night.

Real Monarchs travels to Whitecaps FC 2 next on March 23 while Timbers2 hosts El Farolito SC in U.S. Open Cup play this week.