Many of the top players in the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro campaign have not only excelled for their respective clubs but have earned first-team contracts this season, continuing to show the league’s impact on growing talents.
The New England Revolution, Columbus Crew, and Philadelphia Union are just three clubs to reap the rewards of their awarding of first-team contracts this year, watching as several players have come into the fold.
Jacen Russell-Rowe, Chris Donovan, and Themi Antonoglou are just three of nine MLS NEXT Pro players to get awarded first-team contracts, earning early opportunities to continue developing their individual traits.
Here is a closer look at the MLS NEXT Pro players who have signed first-team contracts:
Jacen Russell-Rowe has been one of the top forwards in MLS NEXT Pro this season, making it an easy decision for Caleb Porter, Tim Bezbatchenko, and Co. to sign him to a first-team contract.
Russell-Rowe, a former academy player with Toronto FC, has netted 13 goals in 13 appearances for Crew2, becoming one of the lethal attacking players in the league overall. The 19-year-old made the most of his first start for the Crew, registering two assists in a 2-1 win over TFC back in June.
Crew2 will continue their push for the MLS NEXT Pro Cup this season and Russell-Rowe could be a key part of that goal.
Not only has Crew2 relied on Russell-Rowe’s goal scoring abilities, but Mohamed Farsi’s impact in midfield has also been key to Laurent Courtois’ squad.
Farsi’s six assists to date is tied for the second-most in MLS NEXT Pro this season, with the 22-year-old sitting just behind Romeo Beckham and Hope Avayevu for the league-lead. Farsi has completed over 85% of his passes for Crew2, and remains the go-to option for running the show in midfield.
Fasri has made a trio of substitute appearances for the Crew first team and could be a depth option later in the season as Columbus aims for a postseason berth.
Beto Avila enjoyed a terrific start to life in MLS NEXT Pro earlier this season and after a long spell with the first team, returned to Kenny Bundy’s side this past weekend.
Avila logged 66 minutes in Friday’s 2-2 draw with Whitecaps FC 2, his first appearance for Dynamo Dos since May 8. The 21-year-old netted five goals with Dynamo Dos in his first six MLS NEXT Pro appearances, including a hat trick in a 3-0 victory over Sporting KC II in April.
With Dynamo Dos pushing for a playoff spot, Avila might remain with Bundy’s squad in hopes of playing a leading role in the attacking corps.
Noah Allen has been a leader for Inter Miami II when available and should be a promising talent in MLS down the road.
The 18-year-old defender has made nine appearances for Inter Miami II this season, scoring one goal and logging over 600 minutes of action. Allen played a key role for the U.S. Under-20 men’s national team this summer, helping Mikey Varas’ squad clinch berths into the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup and 2024 Summer Olympics.
Allen has made three starts in Phil Neville’s first team this season but has returned for regular minutes in Darren Powell’s squad.
Esmir Bajraktarevic is one of two New England Revolution II players to earn a first-team contract this season, a testament to their continued hard work in MLS NEXT Pro.
Bajraktarevic, a U.S. Under-19 men’s national team prospect, has made 11 starts in 14 appearances for Revs II, completing over 85% of his passes, and totaling 11 shots on goal. The Wisconsin native has played in a number of different roles for Clint Peay this season, mainly featuring in the heart of Revs II’s midfield.
He made his first team debut in the U.S. Open Cup earlier this season and could be one to watch for added minutes later this year.
Ben Reveno has been a stalwart in Revs II’s defense this season and the 23-year-old will hope for similar success as the summer rolls on.
Reveno, 23, has made 14 starts for Revs II so far, making 15 interceptions, completing 90% of his passes, and helping the club post three clean sheets in his appearances. A former collegiate player at UC Irvine and UCLA, Reveno logged 105 minutes in a 2-0 U.S. Open Cup loss to New York City FC earlier this season, his first taste with the first team so far.
Revs II will be pushing for more out of Reveno as the MLS NEXT Pro season heads into its final weeks.
Chris Donovan started 2022 wondering what was next for his career but has since skyrocketed into a first-team role.
A former LaSalle University product, Donovan earned a second team contract with the Union earlier this year and since has moved up to Jim Curtin’s first team squad. Donovan has contributed three goals and two assists in 15 MLS NEXT Pro appearances, logging 1,099 minutes to date.
Donovan made his first MLS start in a goalless draw with the Columbus Crew back in early July and since has dressed several times for the East-leading Union.
Nathan Fogaca’s early opportunities with Timbers2 this season has helped him jump into the first team squad under Giovanni Savarese, giving the Western Conference club an added offensive weapon to call on.
Fogaca has scored one goal and added one assist in three MLS NEXT Pro appearances to date, while also scoring twice with the Timbers in a 7-2 win over Sporting KC in May. The Brazilian attacker has featured sparingly with Timbers2 since his arrival in the United States, but has shown that impactful performances in MLS NEXT Pro can lead to first-team opportunities.
TFC II’s stellar run of form has been a total team effort, but Themi Antonoglou is starting to shine at the right time for the Canadian club.
Antonoglou has totaled four goals and three assists for Toronto FC II, putting him among the top offensive contributors in the squad this season. The 21-year-old Canadian international is one of the more talented two-way weapons in MLS NEXT Pro this season and will be one for Bob Bradley to monitor as his reign as TFC boss continues.
St Louis CITY2 has had several key players excel in its inaugural MLS NEXT Pro campaign and Kyle Heibert has been at the forefront of that surge of talent.
Heibert, 24, has made 17 appearances in John Hackworth’s squad this season, logging 1,526 out of a possible 1,530 minutes to date. The Canadian fullback has helped St Louis CITY2 register seven clean sheets, which is the second-most in MLS NEXT Pro this season.
With CITY2 excelling so far in 2022, it wouldn’t be shocking to see a few more players earn first team contracts later this year.