The MLS NEXT Pro Cup matchup is set following two closely competitive matches in the Conference Finals as Columbus Crew 2 in the East and St Louis CITY2 in the West both sent the home crowds home happy to set up a matchup of the top seeds in each conference in the championship match on October 8.
Columbus Crew 2 took home the Eastern Conference crown Sunday evening after defeating Toronto FC II in extra time 4-3 at Historic Crew Stadium to advance to the MLS NEXT Pro Cup.
The visitors nearly pulled off the upset after forcing extra time and leading the match 3-2 following a wonder goal from midfielder Themi Antonoglou.
However, Crew 2 roared back by scoring two goals in the second half of extra time with the winner coming in the 119th minute courtesy of forward and man of the match Coleman Gannon.
Forward Jordan Knight ignited the late heroics from Crew 2 by leveling the game at 3-3 in the 109th minute with a strike that snuck past the keeper’s near post.
Crew 2 completed the comeback with a goal from Gannon where he followed up a rebound and blasted the ball into the net after a last ditch save from the TFCII keeper.
The home side almost avoided all the late drama in regulation, but Antonoglou had other ideas.
The 21-year-old rescued his side from elimination with a last-minute free kick to force extra time and give TFCII a shot to advance to the MLS NEXT Pro Cup.
On top of his equalizer, Antonoglou gave TFCII the lead within the first four minutes of extra time by outrageously chipping the ball over the Crew 2 keeper from his own half.
The match began with Crew 2 dominating the first half as the team had 57% possession and had 10 shots while holding TFCII to none.
Forward Noah Fuson capitalized on Crew 2’s stellar first half and opened the scoring in the 32nd minute. However, the home side’s lead was short lived in the second half after TFCII forward Paul Rothrock exploited mistakes in the Crew 2 backline.
Despite the momentum going the visitors' way, Crew 2 responded with consistent ball pressure that led to a penalty in the 60th minute by midfielder Isaiah Parente to regain the lead at 2-1.
The win caps a stellar season for Crew 2 in the inaugural MLS Next Pro campaign, going 16-3-5 to earn the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
The pressure of advancing to the MLS NEXT Pro Cup fueled St Louis CITY2 to a 2-1 win over Tacoma Defiance Sunday night at Ralph Korte Stadium.
The Defiance desperately hunted for a second-half equalizer but CITY2 narrowly held the lead with a valiant defensive effort.
The scoring opened in the 31st minute when CITY2 midfielder Tomas Ostrak skipped past defenders and curled in a left sided shot from outside the box.
Forward Josh Dolling doubled the home side’s advantage in the second half after getting past his defender to head the ball down at the keeper’s near post.
CITY2 keeper Michael Creek stood tall in goal with plenty of huge saves in the match including a double save against Tacoma forward Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez at point blank.
Tacoma Defiance still managed to find the breakthrough in the 75th minute with a penalty defender Abdoulaye Cissoko confidently converted.
CITY2 ultimately withstood all the pressure from the Tacoma Defiance late in the game to advance to the MLS NEXT Pro Cup.
CITY2 went 15-6-3 to top the Western Conference in the regular season and advanced past fourth-seeded North Texas in the Conference Semifinal to set up the matchup with Tacoma.