2023 MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs

Late Gibran Rayo winner earns Eastern Conference title for Crew 2


Columbus Crew 2's Gibran Rayo created something out of nothing in the final seconds, and the defending MLS NEXT Pro champions are heading back to the MLS NEXT Pro Cup.

Rayo, who coincidentally celebrating his 22nd birthday, put a low shot from a cross by Marco Micaletto in the single minute of stoppage time to lift Crew 2 past New England Revolution II in the Eastern Conference final. 

Laurent Courtois' crew held the upper hand through most of the match but had to withstand powerful waves of Revs II counterattacks to shore up their second consecutive Eastern Conference title.

Jordan Adebayo-Smith, who proved to be a problem for the left side of the Crew 2 back line all night, raced toward goal in the 60th minute eliciting an outstanding close-range save from 17-year-old Crew 2 goalkeeper Stanislav Lapkes. 

Revs II goalkeeper Nicola Campuzano preserved the stalemate late with a near-post save of a shot from Micaletto.

Crew 2 dominated the early going, generating 13 shots with two on goal. Though Crew 2's back line stood strong to maintain the majority of possession in the first half, Revs II threatened with a free kick narrowly missed by Jake Rozhansky in the 13th minute and a close call for a penalty in the 28th minute.

Mataeo Bunbury hit the side netting from close range for Crew 2's best scoring opportunity in the 42nd minute.

Crew 2 advances to the MLS NEXT Pro Cup to face the winner between Colorado Rapids 2 and Austin FC II in the Western Conference final.