The inaugural MLS NEXT Pro regular season campaign has come and gone, but we won't soon forget the impressive performances of many of the league’s next crop of young talent.
Columbus Crew 2, St Louis CITY2, RNY FC, and Houston Dynamo 2 were just a handful of clubs to have players chosen in the 2022 Best XI on Friday. Nine of the 11 players on this prestigious list will participate in the upcoming MLS NEXT Pro playoffs, which kick off on Saturday.
Eight franchises were represented in the Best XI, with Crew 2 leading the way with four nominations.
Here is a closer look at the MLS NEXT Pro Best XI for 2022:
Columbus Crew 2 finished top of the MLS NEXT Pro regular season standings with goalkeeper Patrick Schulte playing a massive role for Laurent Courtois’ squad. Schulte finished second in the league’s clean sheet list (7), helping Crew 2 tie Houston Dynamo 2 for the fewest goals conceded (22).
Schulte made 15 starts for Crew 2, finishing among the league’s best in GAA (1.00), saves (38), and minutes played (1,350). Crew 2 will certainly rely on Schulte’s efforts to make a deep playoff run this fall.
Columbus Crew 2 relied on several players to contribute goals and assists in 2022, but Mo Farsi’s distribution was a leading factor for the highest-scoring team in MLS NEXT Pro.
Farsi finished the regular season tied for first place in assists with Inter Miami II midfielder Romeo Beckham with ten apiece. The 20-year-old fullback scored two goals, completed just under 86% of his passes (85.7%), and made 14 interceptions.
Like his teammate Jacen Russell-Rowe, Farsi earned a first-team contract earlier this year and featured for Caleb Porter’s squad on five occasions.
St Louis CITY2’s fight to claim the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference was led by Kyle Hiebert’s heroics in John Hackworth’s backline. Hiebert led all defenders with 2,156 minutes played at left back, helping CITY2 post seven clean sheets this season. Hiebert was rewarded for his impressive season with a first-team contract earlier this summer and will now have a large role during CITY2’s playoff schedule.
Not only was Hiebert reliable during a busy regular season schedule, but he also participated in 170 duels, scored three goals, and made 30 interceptions.
Houston Dynamo 2 was one of the top defensive teams in 2022, with 23-year-old Talen Maples excelling as a leader centerback in Kenny Bundy’s squad.
Maples logged 1,980 minutes in 22 starts for Dynamo Dos, helping them reach the MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs and finished tied with Columbus Crew 2 for the fewest goals conceded (22). With the Houston Dynamo likely to make roster moves this coming winter, Maples’ strong 2022 year could play him into the first-team plans for the future.
Gibran Rayo garnered much attention in RNY FC’s attack in 2022, but Pedro Dolabella’s two-way ability helped him earn Best XI honors.
Dolabella recorded five goals and five assists for the Eastern Conference club, logging over 2,100 minutes from his midfield position. The 23-year-old finished the regular season tied with Rayo and Ian Garrett for the most key passes (28) and also drew the third-most fouls in the squad (30).
RNY FC will rely on the tandem of Dolabella and Rayo as the MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs begin this weekend.
MNUFC2 will not be heading to the MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs, but that won’t take away from Aziel Jackson’s stellar season in Cameron Knowles’ squad.
Jackson did it all for the MNUFC2 attack this season, totaling ten goals and seven assists in 23 league appearances. The 20-year-old was all over the field, leading the league with 70 key passes, participating in the third-most duels (278), and finishing in the Top-20 in minutes played (1,943).
Not only should Jackson be MNUFC2’s MVP, he also finished the season among the league’s best XI players.
Another standout player for Crew 2 was midfielder Isaiah Parente, who launched a vigorous campaign for the East’s No. 1 seed.
The 22-year-old scored six goals and added five assists for the Central Division Champions while also completing 89% of his passes. Parente’s impact was regularly displayed, being the creative force in Crew 2’s midfield.
Tacoma Defiance’s attack was centered around Marlon Vargas this season, and the forward did not disappoint in leading Wade Webber’s side into the playoffs.
Vargas was one of 10 players to register double-digit goals this season, finishing with 12 goals and six assists in 23 appearances. Vargas enjoyed a strong spring, scoring in six-consecutive matches from May-June, leading the Defiance into a dominant run of form.
The 21-year-old remains a top prospect for Seattle Sounders FC but, for now, will wait for his opportunity with the first team.
Going neck-and-neck with Jacen Russell-Rowe and Jack Lynn for the league’s inaugural Golden Boot award was North Texas SC striker Bernard Kamungo, who continues to be a top threat in 2022.
Kamungo totaled 16 goals and five assists in 24 appearances, finishing the season as North Texas SC’s all-time leading scorer. In the final third, the 20-year-old’s work rate and abilities have helped Pa Modou-Kah’s squad clinch a playoff berth and be among the top-eight teams in MLS NEXT Pro.
Kamungo will be one to watch in the postseason as North Texas SC aims to reach the league final.
Orlando City’s fight for the playoffs went down to the season's final few weeks, and Jack Lynn’s impact was a key reason for it.
A former Notre Dame product, Lynn finished the season third with 15 goals scored for OCB, being the central bright spot in what concluded as a disappointing season for the club. Lynn, 22, also registered four assists in 18 appearances for OCB.
Lynn now heads to San Antonio FC for the remainder of the 2022 season but certainly will knock on the door of Oscar Pareja’s first team squad in Orlando next season.
2022 was a memorable year for Jacen Russell-Rowe as the Canadian international enjoyed a stellar season for Columbus Crew 2. Russell-Rowe won the league’s inaugural Golden Boot by scoring 21 goals, the only player to reach over 20 this season.
His stellar campaign was rewarded with a first-team contract and a two-assist match in MLS action. Russell-Rowe logged 1,498 minutes, drew 18 fouls, and helped Crew 2 to several achievements this year.
Now the focus for the 20-year-old will be to continue his production as the bright lights of the playoffs turn on.