Week 23 of MLS NEXT Pro action begins with the Game of the Week as New York City FC II hosts Philadelphia Union II at Belson Stadium in Queens, New York. The action is set to kick off at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday. 

NYCFC II enters this week as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, trailing Union II by a point. The hosts could move to as high as the third seed in the East and inch closer to a playoff berth with a win over the team from Philadelphia. 

The stakes are just as high for Union II as the club fights to retain the last playoff spot in the East. Despite the pressure, however, Union II is unbeaten in its last five matches. But with only five games left and several teams vying for a playoff spot in the East, its stellar form must continue.

NYCFC II dropped points again last week following a 5-0 defeat against Chicago Fire II, marking its third consecutive scoreless loss. And with only four games on its schedule and one point away from a playoff spot, NYCFC II can’t afford to keep losing. 

The team from New York will have its shot to turn its fortunes around when it hosts Philadelphia Union II. It marks the third game between these two sides with NYCFC II winning the last matchup 5-0.

Look for the home side to reignite its offense and bring more intensity in this game as it battles to break its losing streak to make the playoffs.

Players to Watch:

John Denis, forward - Though he has missed the last few weeks, whenever NYCFC II needs a goal, the club relies on Denis to deliver. The 24-year-old currently has 13 goals, but his side desperately needs more. 

Jonathan Jimenez, forward - Jimenez is currently the second leading goal scorer, so look for the forward to net a goal to break his team’s scoring drought.  

El Mahdi Youssoufi, forward - To reignite the offense someone has to set the table and that’s exactly what Youssoufi will look to do. The forward leads the team with five assists, but look for that tally to rise as NYCFC II hunt for a goals.

Union II, on the other hand, is catching fire at the right time. 

The team is currently riding a five-match unbeaten run and is in the last playoff spot in the East, one point above NYCFC II. However, several teams are still in the hunt for a top-four seed as the season dwindles. 

That being said, Union II is coming off a 5-1 victory over New England Revolution II to make it four wins in five matches. In that five-match span, the dynamic Union II offense scored 15 goals. 

Union II are blazing to the finish line so far, but can its form continue in its last five games?

Players to Watch:

Jesus Bueno, midfielder - The 23-year-old has scored four goals in his last three games for Union II. His scorching form couldn’t have come at a better time, but can he keep it up as defenses begin to tighten? 

Paxten Aaronson, midfielder - Another Union II midfielder in and around the goals is Aaronson as he has four goals and two assists. Look for him to pull the strings for Union II against NYCFC II.

Christopher Donovan, forward - Donovan also has four goals and two assists this season so far. The 22-year-old has been a steady presence for Union II up front, but look for him to step up for his side in these last few games.