Week 14

MLS NEXT Pro halfway point: Western Conference

The inaugural MLS NEXT Pro season has officially reached the halfway point at the end of week 14. 

How has each team fared? Who are the standout players? What does each Conference look like and who have emerged as Playoff frontrunners?

Here is a closer look at the pros, cons, and key performers of each side.

Frontier Division

Record: 8-2-2 (27 points)

The Pros: CITY 2 have been a delightful surprise this MLS NEXT Pro season in their first outing as a club in the realm of Major League Soccer. They sit atop a competitive Frontier Division despite a three-way tie for first on points; they’re ahead due to criteria points. They’re also tied for the second-highest goal-differential in the league with +11.

The Cons: Their two losses this season have come against Western Conference playoff contenders. Those losses are the difference between being good and being great – if they want to find themselves in the second category, they can’t be on the losing end of those matches.

Key Players

Josh Dolling, forward: Dolling has six goals and three assists for CITY 2 so far this season, leading them in the final-third every step of the way.

Celio Pompeu, midfielder: Pompeu has three goals, two assists and has featured in all 12 matches for CITY 2 this season

Record: 8-2-2 (27 points)

The Pros: North Texas SC has been one of the most consistent offenses all season across MLS NEXT Pro, sitting 3rd in the West and 4th overall across the league.

The Cons: Their two losses this season fell into the same category as CITy 2 – against Western Conference playoff contenders. If they want to claim the top spot in the West at the end of the season, they cannot afford to drop points against their competition for that spot.

Key Players

Bernard Kamungo, forward: Kamungo has seven goals this season on 36 scoring attempts. Of those 36, 21 were on-target. He’s been an elite attacker for Pa Modou-Kah’s side.

Hope Avayevu, forward: Avayevu has three goals and five assists for NTX, playing the role of the crucial final pass for them. He’s formed a formidable partnership with Kamungo.

Record: 7-4-1 (22 points)

The Pros: Dynamo 2 started the season in incredible fashion, 5-0-0, including three shutouts. Their star striker, “Beto” Avila earned an MLS contract due to their on-field heroics. They also sport a perfect record at home at 4-0-0.

The Cons: They lost their last three matches as we meet the halfway point and have only claimed four points in their last seven matches. Their hot start cooled off fast and now they need to find themselves once again as the second half of the season starts up.

Key Players

Papa Ndoye, forward: Ndoye has taken over the role of goalscorer since Avila’s departure after matchday seven. He has five goals and one assist.

Juan Castilla, midfielder: Castilla has started eight out of nine matches played in this season and has supplied three assists from the midfield role.

Record: 5-3-3 (21 points)

The Pros: MNUFC2 have only played 11 matches so far this season and are in prime position for a playoff spot based on their current form. They’ve taken the additional point in all three draws this season through kicks from the spot while also going on an eight-match unbeaten streak in weeks 3-11. They boast a +9 goal-differential and have those two extra matches to climb up the West towards the top still.

The Cons: They started the season slow, with two straight losses and ended their unbeaten streak in week 12, falling to Earthquakes II on the road after conceding a stoppage time winner. The Loons need to start finding results against fellow playoff contenders instead of settling for a draw, noting specific results against Dynamo 2 and WFC2.

Key Players

Aziel Jackson, midfielder: Jackson is one of the brightest talents across the league, with five goals and three assists in 10 games.

Diogo Pacheco, forward: Pacheco has three goals and three assists for the Loons this season, combining well with their front four.

Record: 5-6-2 (17 points)

The Pros: SKC II forward Julian Vazquez has been lighting up their attack, showing brightly for Benny Feilhaber’s side.

The Cons: They boast a negative goal-differential at -4 and have struggled finding the back of the net of late. SKC II have only scored one goal in their past four matches, taking 4 out of a possible 12 points in the process. They’ll need more consistency on both ends of the pitch if they truly want to contend for a Western Conference playoff spot.

Key Players

Julian Vazquez, forward: Vazquez has three goals and three assists so far this season, and his performances have been noticed, with the youngster earning a one-match loan to the first-team earlier in the campaign.

Mataeo Bunbury, forward: Bunbury leads the team in scoring with four goals, adding one assist to his name in the process.

Record: 2-8-2 (9 points)

The Pros: They have earned wins against the two teams beneath them in the West, Real Monarchs and Timbers2. They also earned an impressive draw against CITY 2 earlier in the campaign.

The Cons: Rapids 2 are in second to last place when it comes to goal-differential, sitting at -21. Their defense has been leaky all season, conceding at least three goals in a match six times this season. Before their attack can be fixed, their defense needs to come together.

Key Players

Darren Yapi, forward: Yapi has been a bright spot in a bleak attack, contributing to three goals and an assist this season.

Yosuke Hanya, midfielder: Hanya has contributed two assists so far this season, being the only player to feature in all 11 matches for them.

Pacific Division

Record: 7-2-4 (28 points)

The Pros: Defiance are atop the West and atop the Pacific Division. They’re on a nine-match unbeaten streak and should be in contention for the best current team competing in the league. They have a +20 goal-differential, proving efficiency on both ends of the pitch.

The Cons: Of their four draws this season, they likely could have taken three points from a few of them. Both of their losses this season came in back-to-back weeks early in the campaign as well. For them to stay atop the West, they’ll need to assert dominance against fellow playoff contenders while balancing efficiency on the road and at home.

Key Players

Marlon Vargas, midfielder: Vargas has scored in six straight games and has seven total goals this season. He also has an impressive four assists to add to his goal tally.

Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez, forward: Ocampo-Chavez is tied with Vargas for leading the team in goals scored with seven. He’s been productive in the final-third despite inconsistency of late.

Record: 6-2-5 (25 points)

The Pros: WFC2 have surprised everyone week-in and week-out with their performances. They have impressive wins against CITY 2 and Tacoma Defiance on their resume, and they just pulled off a 3-1 shocker to end North Texas SC’s unbeaten streak. They’ve shown they are a top-tier contender in the West.

The Cons: They dropped points to a struggling Timbers2 side earlier this season, which could prove costly in the long run. Of their five draws this season, they have only taken the additional point twice out of five possible.

Key Players

Simon Becher, forward: Becher has the highest combined G+A per 90 this season for WFC2, with three goals and two assists.

Vasco Fry, midfielder: Fry has three assists and one goal in 13 appearances so far this season, starting 12 games.

Record: 5-5-2 (18 points)

The Pros: Earthquakes II have managed to earn a few impressive results this season, most recently with a week 12 victory over MNUFC2. Their 7-1 thrashing of Rapids 2 earlier this season highlights what the team is capable of – now it’s up to them to find consistency.

The Cons: They have a 3-2-1 record at home, and if they want to continue their climb up the West… securing three points at home as they move forward is a must. On top of that, they only have a +3 goal-differential. Criteria points become important as the season goes on, so improving their attack could be a way to climb up that ladder as well.

Key Players

Maximilian Arfsten, forward: Arfsten has three goals and three assists in 12 matches, with 32 total scoring attempts so far this season.

Eduardo Blancas, midfielder: Blancas has three goals this season, but has been composed in the middle of the pitch with an 80.7 passing percentage.

Record: 1-8-2 (7 points)

The Pros: Timbers2 earned their first-ever win on June 19, beating Houston Dynamo 2 on their home ground. A stoppage-time winner from Zac McGraw saw the celebrations start after a tough start to their inaugural campaign.

The Cons: They have lost eight matches so far this season and it’s likely they won’t be able to salvage it. Now, it’s about learning more as a professional player and finding results in matches that you may not expect to.

Key Players

Blake Bodily, midfielder: Bodily has three goals for Timbers2 this season.

Jamin Gogo Peters, forward: Gogo Peters has started 6 out of 10 the 10 matches he’s played in this season, scoring three goals in the process.

Record: 0-10-2 (2 points)

The Pros: This has been an incredible learning experience for the youngest side competing in MLS NEXT Pro. Despite not finding their first win this season yet, they’ve come together as a group and have claimed two points in impressive draws.

The Cons: It hasn’t been the season anyone at the Real Monarchs organization predicted it would be, as they’ve lost all but two matches so far this season. They failed to win a second point in their two draws this season too, falling in kicks from the spot both times. There’s room for improvement all around, but at this point, it’s more of a learning experience than anything.

Key Players

Pedro Fonseca, forward: Fonseca has four goals this season, ½ of their entire total this campaign.

Tyrone Mondi, midfielder: Mondi has two goals in six appearances so far in 2022, coming off the bench twice.