MLS NEXT Pro Conference Finals Preview

Last week was filled with jubilation, heartbreak, and late-game heroics and the action rolls on for the last four squads standing. 

The remaining four teams are one game away from winning their conference and advancing to the first-ever MLS NEXT Pro Final. Huge stakes that will likely provide thrilling and suspenseful moments this Sunday. 

That being said, let’s take a deeper look at the matchups in the respective Eastern and Western Conference Finals:

Sunday, October 2

Columbus Crew 2 vs Toronto FC II (5 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. CT / 2 p.m. PT)

The Eastern Conference crown is on the line Sunday evening when top-seeded Columbus Crew 2 hosts second-seed Toronto FC II at Historic Crew Stadium.

MLS NEXT Pro Golden Boot winner Jacen Russell-Rowe grabbed the headlines in Crew 2’s impressive 4-1 win over Rochester New York FC last week by scoring a hat trick. 

The 20-year-old forward now has seven goals in his last two matches, bringing his tally to 24 total goals in all competitions in the 2022 campaign. 

One top of the offense firing away, the Crew 2 defense made it a complete team effort as it limited RNY FC to five shots and only one shot on target.  

Toronto FC II, on the other hand, narrowly defeated Philadelphia Union II at BMO Field 1-0. Forward Hugo Mbongue scored the match’s lone goal in the sixth minute as TFC II held on to the lead until the final whistle. 

The Canadian side couldn’t capitalize on chances in the second half to seal the game, but ultimately showed reliance to win the game. 

All that being said, this Conference Final matchup will come down to whether TFC II can contain the home team’s prolific offense and score on a counter, or can Crew 2 continue to blitz the opposition.

St Louis CITY2 vs Tacoma Defiance (8:30 p.m. ET / 7:30 p.m. CT / 5:30 p.m. PT)

It’s a clash of two heavyweights on Sunday night in the Western Conference Final when St Louis CITY2 hosts Tacoma Defiance at Ralph Korte Stadium. 

Top-seeded CITY2 is coming off a nail-biting finish in its 2-0 win over North Texas SC last week. A penalty from midfielder Celio Pompeu put the game away in stoppage after CITY2 held off NTSC.

The hosts couldn’t find the breakthrough goal until the second half, but eventually found a way to take the lead and maintain it without a hitch. 

Tacoma Defiance also found a way to snatch a win, but just barely. 

The team from Washington climbed back from a 2-0 deficit against Houston Dynamo 2 to force a penalty shootout and ultimately win 5-4. Both goals to level the game came late in the second half after the Defiance ramped up its pressure on the ball.

The match could've gone Dynamo Dos’ way, but the Defiance’s championship metal was tested and it prevailed from the edge of elimination. 

Taking everything into consideration, this Western Conference Final matchup could easily go to a penalty shootout. 

Both teams are evenly matched, in terms of talent and will to win, so expect a highly intense game filled with clutch moments.