Another record-setting shootout, a three-goal comeback from Earthquakes II and a hat trick for Huntsville City FC's Azaad Liadi highlighted action in Matchday 23 in MLS NEXT Pro. The playoff plot also thickens as we narrow in on the regular season's crunch time.
Here are the results from MLS NEXT Pro Matchday 23.
New York Red Bulls II (4) - Atlanta United 2 (2)
Ibrahim Kasule notched a brace as New York Red Bulls II continues to roll in the Eastern Conference with a 4-2 win over Atlanta United 2. Red Bulls II maintained fourth place in the Eastern Conference by picking up a second straight win.
Nick Firmino opened scoring in the 18th minute, Red Bulls II fired back with three goals in a row to finish the first half. Kasule scored in the 20th minute, turning and finding a shot after a hesitation move to throw off a defender. Frank Ssebufu added another with a 28th-minute header, and Wikelman Carmona scored with an impressive shot from just outside the box. Kasule added a penalty-kick goal in the 60th minute, raising his goal total to 13 this season. ATL UTD 2's Luke Brennan pulled a goal back in the 78th minute.
Whitecaps FC 2 (1) - Austin FC II (1) (Whitecaps FC 2 wins shootout 4-3)
Whitecaps FC 2 took the extra point in a tightly contested match at BC Place. A wondergoal from Mihail Gherasimencov equalized late in the match for Whitecaps FC 2.
Valentin Noel put Austin FC II ahead in the 62nd minute. Gherasimencov rattled the crossbar to score directly from a free kick in the 87th minute.
Whitecaps FC 2 endured a disastrous July, but got back on track with two points in this match and one point in a shootout loss last time out. Austin FC II remains second in the Western Conference.
Columbus Crew 2 (5) - FC Cincinnati 2 (1)
Columbus Crew 2 secured bragging rights in this in-state clash, with five different players scoring in an excellent overall team performance. Crew 2 rebounded from last week's heavy loss to Red Bulls II, and continues to fight for a top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Taha Habroune and Isaiah Parente led Crew 2, with Habroune notching two assist and Parente scoring a goal and adding an assist. Noah Fuson opened scoring in the 10th minute, with Marco Micaletto making it 2-0 seven minutes later. Parente and Coleman Gannon made it 4-1 before halftime, and Patrick Bohui scored a fifth Crew 2 in his debut for the team.
Inter Miami II (1) - Crown Legacy FC (2)
First-half goals from Iuri Tavares and Chris Hegardt proved enough for Eastern Conference leaders Crown Legacy to lock up three points in a road trip to DRV PNK Stadium.
Tavares extended a scoring streak to three games, opening scoring in the 18th minute by connecting perfectly with a Jack Neeley cross. Hegardt scored 20 minutes later with a strong back-post finish. Sergio Morales put some pressure on Crown Legacy by pulling a goal back in the 73rd minute.
Crown Legacy secured a playoff berth last week, and appears poised to win the Eastern Conference outright, with a five-point lead over second-place Revs II.
Huntsville City FC (5) - Philadelphia Union II (2)
Azaad Liadi scored a hat trick to lead Huntsville City FC to three points Saturday night at Joe Davis Stadium.
Union II scored first, but went down a man after a red card in the 25th minute. Liadi scored with a clean finish into the lower right corner in the 35th minute. Kemy Amiche converted from the penalty spot in the 42nd minute to hand HCFC a lead. Liadi scored in the 64th and 73rd minutes to complete the hat trick, and Joseph Skinner added a fifth goal in the 89th minute.
HCFC moved into a playoff position at seventh in the Eastern Conference with the win. Jack Collison's side enjoyed an excellent end to July and month of August, losing only one match in the past six games.
Sporting Kansas City II (1) - MNUFC2 (0)
Alenis Vargas scored late to hand Sporting Kansas City II three points at Rock Chalk Park over MNUFC2.
In the 79th minute, Vargas made a move past a defender to make his way further into the box and send a shot into the top right corner. The game-winning goal comes one week after Vargas earned Player of the Matchday honors for a hat trick in SKC II's previous win.
Benny Feilhaber's side has picked up two straight wins, with Vargas scoring four goals. SKC II remains fourth in the Western Conference.
North Texas SC (2) - Tacoma Defiance (2) (Defiance wins shootout 6-5)
An exciting four-goal affair left Tacoma Defiance with two points after winning a tightly contested shootout at Choctaw Stadium. Defiance goalkeeper Jacob Castro made six saves in regulation and stood strong in a seven-round shootout.
Tomas Pondeca opened scoring in the 54th minute for North Texas. Then, a three-minute sequence with three goals produced the 2-2 scoreline. Abdoulaye Cissoko tied the match with a converted penalty kick in the 66th minute. Less than a minute later, Diego Garcia struck from outside the box to hand North Texas the 2-1 lead. Snyder Brunell finished Defiance's next chance a little over one minute later.
Defiance have gone four of the last five games unbeaten and remain third in the Western Conference.
Earthquakes II (4) - Houston Dynamo 2 (3)
Earthquakes II mounted a three-goal comeback to take all three points at home in a thrilling 4-3 win over Houston Dynamo 2 on Saturday. Eduardo Blancas scored the winning goal in the 83rd minute.
Ousseni Bouda opened scoring for Quakes II in the 12th minute, but Dynamo Dos scored three times to make it 3-1 at halftime. Diego Gonzalez scored the equalizer and center back Talen Maples scored two goals. Quakes II tied the match with an own goal and a 60th-minute strike from Casey Walls.
Quakes II halted a four-game unbeaten run for Dynamo Dos and improved to fifth in the Western Conference, and are unbeaten in five of their last six games.
LA Galaxy II (0) - Real Monarchs (0) (Galaxy II wins shootout 10-9)
The longest shootout in MLS NEXT Pro's history ended after 12 rounds, with LA Galaxy II's Adrian Gonzalez netting the decisive spot kick to give his team two points following a scoreless draw in regulation.
The 12-round shootout set a new league record for longest shootout, just two weeks after Real Monarchs and Earthquakes II broke the previous record with an 11-round shootout.
Galaxy II goalkeeper Simon Jillson made seven saves to preserve the clean sheet in regulation, while Real Monarchs goalkeeper Fernando Delgado made five saves.
Colorado Rapids 2 (4) - Los Angeles Football Club 2 (0)
Colorado Rapids 2 continued to breeze through the Western Conference with another dominant win, 4-0 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park over Los Angeles Football Club 2. Remi Cabral scored two goals to lead Rapids 2.
Blake Malone opened scoring with a header off a corner kick in the third minute. Cabral scored his first goal in the 17th minute by jumping on a failed clearance in the six-yard box. He made it 3-0 with a fantastic finish of a ball forward from Jackson Travis. Yosuke Hanya scored in the 86th minute. Hanya's 12th goal of the 2023 season ties him with Cabral for the Rapids 2 scoring lead.
Rapids 2 picked up a second win in a row and continues to command a wide lead in the Western Conference table. LAFC2 were eliminated from playoff contention with the loss.
TFC II (0) - New England Revolution II (0) (Revs II wins shootout 4-1)
New England Revolution II claimed the extra point after a stalemate in this Eastern Conference clash. Revs II locked up a playoff berth by picking up two points.
Revs II goalkeeper Nicola Campuzano helped his team fend off 21 shots from TFC II. Revs II stretched an unbeaten run to three games, and remain second in the Eastern Conference.
St Louis CITY2 (4) - Timbers2 (1)
St Louis CITY2 put forth another high-volume scoring performance, with John Klein raising his 2023 goal total to 12 with a brace to finish out the match.
Isak Jensen and Nolan McGuire found the back of the net to give CITY2 a 2-0 lead by the 49th minute. Blake Pope pulled a goal back for T2, but Klein scored in the 63rd and 72nd minutes to seal the win.
CITY2 bolstered its campaign for a playoff spot, and has now extended an unbeaten streak to four games.
Chicago Fire FC II (2) - NYCFC II (2)
Fire II goalkeeper Mihajlo Miskovic made a shootout save and Justin Reynolds sealed the extra point with the decisive spot-kick as Fire II took two points at SeatGeek Stadium. MLS NEXT Pro top scorer Matthew Myers sent the game to a shootout with a stoppage-time strike for his 16th goal of the 2023 season.
Luka Prpa handed Fire II the lead in the first minute, but NYCFC II leveled it only two minutes later with Gabriel Segal scoring. Billy Hency handed Fire II the lead in the 34th minute.
Fire II are on a five-game winning streak of shootouts, and a five-game unbeaten streak to reach fifth in the Eastern Conference.