MLS NEXT Pro Playoff Preview: Conference Semifinals

New York Red Bulls II

The 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Conference Quarterfinals brought plenty of drama and excitement and the stakes are even higher in this weekend’s semifinal round. 

No. 1 seeds Colorado Rapids 2 and Crown Legacy FC enter the postseason and will aim to carry their regular season dominance over to the semifinals. Erik Bushey’s men will host Earthquakes II in the semifinals after receiving a first-round bye.

Tacoma Defiance will remain at Starfire Sports Complex in the semifinals, hosting Austin FC II. 

Crown Legacy FC will take on reigning MLS NEXT Pro Champions Columbus Crew 2, pitting two of the league’s top attacking units against one another. New England Revolution II will also remain on home soil as New York Red Bulls II make the trip to Foxborough. 

Here is a closer look at the conference semifinal playoff schedule:

Friday - 10/06

New England Revolution II vs. New York Red Bulls II (7 PM ET, MLS Season Pass on Apple TV)

Two Eastern Conference rivals will square off this weekend for the fourth time in 2023. 

New England Revolution II hung on for a 3-2 home victory over Philadelphia Union II on Sunday, using an early penalty-kick goal from Marcos Dias and a brace from Esmir Bajraktarevic to seal a spot in the semifinals. Revs II’s defense conceded two late goals to Union II, but ultimately got the job done to remain at Gillette Stadium this weekend. Revenge will be on the minds of the Revs II players after they failed to defeat New York Red Bulls II in three prior meetings this year.

New York Red Bulls II scored early and often in their 4-1 quarterfinal victory over Chicago Fire II. Ibrahim Kasule continued a strong 2023 campaign by scoring twice, while Frank Ssebufu and O’Vonte Mullings also found the back of the net once apiece. The 19-year-old Kasule will be the main man to watch for the Revs II backline, but Ssebufu and Wikelman Carmona are also talented attacking players in their own right.

Sunday - 10/08

Crown Legacy FC vs. Columbus Crew 2 (3 PM ET, MLS Season Pass on Apple TV)

Crown Legacy FC enters the postseason schedule this weekend with Jose Tavares’ men aiming to eliminate the reigning league champions. 

Columbus Crew 2 will make the trip to North Carolina, seeking a major upset to keep their quest at back-to-back titles alive. Laurent Courtois’ men used a 91st minute winning penalty-kick goal from Marco Micaletto to advance past Orlando City B by a 2-1 scoreline. Noah Fuson also found the back of the net in Sunday’s win, remaining a dangerous weapon in front of goal. Both Fuson and Coleman Gannon have registered goals against Crown Legacy FC in 2023.

Crown Legacy FC should be well-rested coming into the playoffs after receiving a first-round bye last weekend. The expansion side have dominated on both sides of the field in 2023, riding a seven-match unbeaten run into their first playoff appearance. Patrick Agyemang scored the lone goal in a 1-0 triumph over Crew 2 back in April and overall is one of two Crown Legacy FC players to register double-digit goals in 2023 (10).

Colorado Rapids 2 vs. Earthquakes II (9:30 PM ET, MLS Season Pass on Apple TV)

Earthquakes II went on the road in the quarterfinal round and kept their season alive, but a trip to No. 1 seed Colorado Rapids 2 will surely be a tougher test. 

William Richmond and Ousseni Bouda both scored second-half goals on Sunday as Quakes II eliminated Western Conference Champions St. Louis CITY2 by a 2-0 scoreline. It marked the third-straight victory for Daniel De Geer’s men, who will be riding a wave of confidence into this weekend’s trip to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Quakes II earned one point in two regular-season showdowns with Rapids 2 in 2023, with Richmond and Jack Skahan serving as their only recent goalscorers against them.

Colorado Rapids 2 have yet to lose on home soil against Quakes II and will be seeking to extend that streak in their playoff debut. Rapids 2 have won four-straight matches heading into this weekend’s match and will have several key players to call on in the final third. Remi Cabral led the team with 19 goals, which was good enough to earn him a three-way tie for the MLS NEXT Pro Golden Boot award. Yosuke Hanya and Oliver Larraz also combined for 22 league goals in 2023 and will be tough to slow down.

Tacoma Defiance vs. Austin FC II (10 PM ET, MLS Season Pass on Apple TV)

Tacoma Defiance received a tough first round test against Houston Dynamo 2 and will now turn their attention towards another Texas-based club in the semifinal round. 

Wade Webber’s squad will take on Austin FC II in the semifinals after eliminating Dynamo Dos by a 4-3 scoreline. Despite a late surge from the visitors, the Defiance hung on for a spot in the semifinals thanks to a brace from Braudilio Rodrigues, as well as other tallies from Blake Bowen and Dylan Teves. Bowen also added two assists in a Man of the Match worthy performance and could be one of the key creators to watch for the Defiance.

Austin FC II snapped their six-match regulation winless streak in the conference quarterfinals after defeating Sporting KC II by a 2-0 scoreline. David Rodriguez and Alonso Ramirez both scored in the second half while Austin FC II’s stingy backline registered their first clean sheet since August 12. 21-year-old MLS NEXT Pro Goalkeeper of the Year Damian Las made four saves to register his 13th shutout of the year, continuing a stellar season in between the posts. 

The two teams split their two regular season meetings in 2023, with the Defiance winning 1-0 at home and Austin FC claiming a 2-1 home victory themselves.