The monumental and historic MLS NEXT Pro inaugural match between St Louis CITY2 and Rochester New York FC saw a rambunctious sold-out crowd of 6,012 pack Hermann Stadium to max capacity to get a glimpse at the future of soccer in the city of St. Louis.
The hosts made history when they opened the score in the 20th minute through midfielder Wan Kuzain, who pounced on a loose ball off a corner kick, slamming it home.
Wan Kuzain scores first ever MLS NEXT Pro goal
HISTORIC: Watch first ever MLS NEXT Pro goal
A second-half spot kick from Vitor Dias saw St Louis CITY2 claim all three points in a 2-0 win over RNY FC to kick off the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro season.
Dias was brought down in the box by RNY FC goalkeeper Caique, who was awarded the first-ever yellow card in MLS NEXT Pro for the foul. Dias, a former 2022 third-round MLS Superdraft pick from the Vancouver Whitecaps, stepped up to the spot and smashed the ball home, past the hands of Caique and into the back of the net to double the lead in the 60th minute.
Vitor Dias scores the second St Louis CITY2 goal via PK
The Future Starts Now
In what has long been considered the soccer capital of the United States, the first-ever professional match played under the St. Louis SC organization name is now written in stone. With St. Louis CITY SC set to join MLS as an expansion franchise in 2023, getting to run a team out in the MLS NEXT Pro league during 2022 will be crucial to their roster-building process.
For RNY FC, the return of professional soccer to a city rooted in soccer culture is wonderful to see. 1,609 days after the Rochester Rhinos folded as an organization, Rochester New York FC has established itself as the new soccer powerhouse of northern New York. With Co-Owner Jamie Vardy, who is an England National Team player and current Leicester City forward, on-board, the possibilities feel endless for the organization.
Kuzain’s 20th minute strike swung the momentum in the hosts favor, with RNY FC struggling to keep up with the tempo of the match until the midway mark. The dagger came midway through the second 45’ off the boot of Vitor Dias, creating an even larger mountain to climb for the away side.
Despite the outcome of the match, it was a valiant effort from the away side in their inaugural match. Likewise, a blistering turnout from the home side partnered by brilliant on-field display saw MLS NEXT Pro kick off with a bang.
Friday’s contest in St. Louis is a new beginning for a pathway to men’s professional soccer in the United States, with the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro campaign officially underway.
The three-step process from MLS NEXT to MLS NEXT Pro and, finally, MLS will allow clubs to play their talented youth players at different competitive levels until the club believes they’re ready to make the big jump to the first-team. An established and competitive pathway has finally arrived, and with opening weekend underway, the opportunities for the young men within the league are plentiful.
With an average roster age of 20.08 years, MLS NEXT Pro is preparing to ready the next generation of talented footballers from around the world.
The Big Picture:
- Gaffer Bruno Baltazar only arrived in the U.S. this past Sunday, with the new RNY FC coach given a mere five days of work with his roster before Matchday One. Despite the setback, RNY FC gave the hosts a run for their money by leading in both possession (57.1%), duels won (55) and tackles won (12). The away side looked disjointed at times, but won the midfield battle throughout the game. With time, if Baltazar can find the perfect mix to link-up his defense, midfield and attack, they should be perfectly fine.
- A monumental breakthrough for the league and the club, it was a brilliant win for the hosts. CITY2 were the dominant side for the majority of the match, but a lack of discipline saw the hosts lose control after getting their second goal. Midfielder Ezra Armstrong received a second yellow card in the 65th minute, being sent off on his club and league debut. Despite the setback, John Hackworth’s side remained composed and held onto the clean sheet.
Moment of the Match:
- Wan Kuzain’s 20th minute strike. The former Sporting Kansas City player scored the first-ever goal in MLS NEXT Pro. A historic goal, Kuzain will now forever have his name in the record books.