MLS NEXT Pro Matchday 24 saw the 2023 playoff field take another step towards the ultimate.
Defending champion Columbus Crew 2 clinched a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference by way of third-party assistance while emerging Eastern juggernaut New York Red Bulls II clinched their berth outright.
On the flip side - North Texas SC, LA Galaxy II, Real Monarchs, and FC Cincinnati 2 avoided elimination with their respective heroics.
Here is a closer look at all the action Matchday 24 had on show:
FC Cincinnati 2 (2) - NYCFC II (0)
With their backs against the ropes in terms of playoff hopes, FCC2 needed a hero.
Midfielder Malik Pinto put on the cape and delivered a goal and assist to lift his side out of playoff elimination.
That was no easy task against a potent NYCFC II attack, and Pinto couldn't do it alone. FCC2 goalkeeper Paul Walters denied Golden Boot leader Matthew "MD" Myers from the spot in the 87th minute to kill off any thoughts of a late comeback.
Philadelphia Union II (0) - New England Revolution II (3)
New England Revolution II continued their strong form with a 3-0 victory over Philadelphia Union II at Subaru Park.
The first goal came in the 40th minute when Jordan Adebabyo-Smith assisted Joshua Bolam near the top of the box. Bolam's well-placed shot gave his team the lead right before halftime.
Revs II kept up their attack in the final 45 minutes with Marcos Dias scoring twice to secure the 3-0 win.
This victory marked New England Revolution II's 10th consecutive game without a regulation loss. Their last defeat took place on June 18th against FC Cincinnati 2.
Houston Dynamo 2 (0)- LA Galaxy II (4)
This tilt was all about Aaron Bibout.
The 18-year-old Cameroonian striker re-entered the 2023 Golden Boot race with a brace that powered his side to a 4-0 win over Dynamo Dos.
Jonathan Pérez and Galaxy Academy man Julian Placias joined Bibout on the scoresheet in a decisive win that spared Los Dos from playoff elimination in Matchday 24.
Huntsville City FC (2) - Inter Miami II (2) - Huntsville City FC takes 5-4 SOW
Huntsville City FC earned two valuable points against Inter Miami II, pushing them to the 6th position in the Eastern Conference standings with four games remaining on their calendar.
Joey Skinner took the lead for Huntsville City, registering two goals and increasing his season tally to six.
Inter Miami II saw Tyler Hall and Cameron Johnson find the back of the net, with Johnson's late goal extending the game into a shootout.
Maintaining composure in front of their home crowd, Huntsville City rebounded from a missed initial shootout kick. Goalkeeper Ben Martino played a pivotal role by saving a crucial kick, while Inter Miami II's Jack Pymm's shootout attempt soared over the bar to give Huntsville City FC the extra point.
New York Red Bulls II (5) - Chicago Fire FC II (4)
New York Red Bulls II clinched their first ever MLS NEXT Pro playoff berth by defeating Chicago Fire II on Sunday night.
In a seesaw battle, Red Bulls II saw contributions from four different players, with Ibrahim Kasule standing out with a brace.
Chicago Fire II displayed resilience, responding each time they fell behind. Fire II leading scorer Billy Hency found the net in the 22nd minute, earning his eighth goal of the season.
With the victory, Ibrahim Sekagya's squad now occupies the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference standings, trailing Columbus Crew 2 by just one point.
Orlando City B (4) - Columbus Crew 2 (1)
Orlando City B secured a 4-1 victory over Columbus Crew 2 during their Matchday 24 matchup.
OCB’s Wilfredo Rivera scored the first goal of the night in the 39th minute, securing the only goal of the first half. Shak Mohammed and Jhon Solís extended the lead for Orlando City B in the second half.
Crew 2’s Gibran Rayo netted an 80th-minute goal for the visitors, but Orlando City B’s Jack Lynn responded quickly, converting a penalty kick just two minutes later and securing the win for the Young Lions.
St Louis CITY2 (3) - Earthquakes II (1)
CITY2 is on a tear. The defending Western Conference champs continued their crusade to defend the title in comeback fashion.
Caden Glover, a 16-year-old first-teamer starred on Sunday with a brace that put his side above the playoff line. Striker Faysal Bettache punctuated the comeback in the 71st minute to make a statement and pace the crowded Western Conference playoff race.
Timbers2 (2) - Colorado Rapids 2 (0)
The upset of the weekend belongs to Timbers2, who topped Western Conference leaders Rapids 2 in one of the most surprising games of the 2023 season to-date.
Timbers2, currently 10th in the West, took a swipe at the conference leaders to close out Matchday 24 action. They benefitted from an early own-goal and capitalized on some misdirection in the Rapids 2 backline to earn a much-needed win in terms of the playoff landscape.
Crown Legacy FC (1) - TFC II (1) - Crown Legacy takes 3-1 SOW
Crown Legacy FC maintained their home unbeaten streak as Joao Pedro's stunning 99th-minute goal salvaged a draw following an early red card.
Despite the adversity, including Jordan Faria giving TFC II the lead in the 83rd minute, Crown Legacy FC demonstrated resilience.
The match proceeded to a shootout, where Crown Legacy's Chituru Odunze denied three TFC II penalty kicks, securing two points for Jose Tavares’ side and marking their third shootout victory this season.
MNUFC2 (2) - Tacoma Defiance (4)
Tacoma Defiance continued their pursuit of their second consecutive MLS NEXT Pro playoff spot against MNUFC2 in an away clash on Friday night.
The match began with an early goal from homegrown talent Josh Atencio. MNUFC2 responded as Molik Khan netted an equalizer in the 18th minute through a well-executed counter attack.
Atencio's influence persisted as he assisted Braudilio Rodrigues, who found the net in the 36th minute, granting Tacoma a 2-1 advantage.
Just before halftime, Frank Daroma curled in a remarkable shot, extending Tacoma's lead to 3-1. Defiance continued their attack in the second half with Raul Miglietti scoring his side’s fourth of the night with a powerful shot to the far post in the 70th minute.
Although Emmanuel Iwe managed a stoppage-time goal for MNUFC2 off a Kameron Lacey shot, the effort arrived too late as Defiance grabbed the 4-2 victory.
Tacoma Defiance clinched their eleventh victory of the season and the three points, putting them that much closer to a playoff spot.
Austin FC II (1) - Sporting KC II (2)
Sporting KC II secured their third consecutive victory on Friday night, defeating Austin FC II with a score of 2-1.
Fielding a lineup that included three current Sporting Kansas City academy players, SKC II successfully fended off Austin FC II's first-half dominance in possession and scoring opportunities.
Austin FC II managed to break through in the 48th minute, as Salvatore Mazzaferro's header from a corner kick found the back of the net.
Austin FC II’s goal triggered a response from SKC II's offense with Lucas Rosa equalizing in the 58th minute with a curling shot that beat Damian Las. Minutes later, SKC academy player Macielo Tschantret extended SKC II’s lead with a well-timed header.
SKC II defended their advantage until the final whistle, becoming only the second team to defeat Austin FC II at home this season.
LAFC2 (0) - Real Monarchs (1)
Real Monarchs earned their seventh season win, prevailing against LAFC2 at Titan Stadium.
As the match neared a shootout, Axel Kei broke the deadlock with a well-placed shot from the right side of LAFC2's area, securing a 1-0 victory for his side.
With this win, Real Monarchs keep their playoff hopes alive for another Matchday but must continue to gather points in their remaining regular season matches if they hope to secure a playoff spot in the competitive Western Conference.
Whitecaps FC 2 (0) - North Texas SC (1)
North Texas SC aimed to avoid elimination on the road against WFC2 during Matchday 24 action.
NTX had a chance to take the lead with a penalty early in the match, but André Luque's shot was saved by WFC2's Max Anchor.
Despite controlling possession and shots, WFC2 couldn't breach NTX's defense throughout the game. The deadlock was broken in the 83rd minute by Jose Mulato, tapping in a rebound off a Hope Avayevu shot on target for a 1-0 lead.
Whitecaps FC 2 continued attacking until the end, but goalkeeper Antonio Carrera stood tall in front of goal, securing the victory for North Texas SC.