It’s finally time. The inaugural MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs have arrived after a thrilling regular season that finished with eight teams remaining and battling for championship glory.
Four games are slated this weekend with the Eastern Conference matchups on Saturday and the Western Conference matchups on Sunday. Gear up, this first round of the playoffs will eliminate four teams but not without suspense, drama, and of course plenty of goals.
Columbus Crew 2 vs RNY FC (3 p.m. ET / 2 p.m. CT / 12 p.m. PT)
The playoffs kick off in Ohio as the Columbus Crew 2 host Rochester New York FC at Historic Crew Stadium.
Crew 2 comes into this matchup as the top seed in the Eastern Conference after finishing with 55 points, 14 more than any other team. On top of that, the team is riding a seven-game unbeaten run with its previous match being a convincing 9-0 win over FC Cincinnati 2.
The home side is clicking on all phases at the right time and is favored to win this game. However, don't count out RNY FC.
Despite being the last playoff team in the East, the club from Rochester is still a formidable side as it’s on a four-game unbeaten run to close the regular season.
Expect plenty of goals in this match with both teams fielding dynamic frontlines as leading MLS NEXT Pro goalscorer Jacen Rusell-Rowe leads Crew 2 and Gibran Rayo, who netted 13 goals, leads RNY FC.
Toronto FC II vs Philadephia Union II (7 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. CT / 4 p.m. PT)
It’s a clash of two well-balanced teams when Toronto FC II host Philadelphia Union II at BMO Field Saturday evening.
TFC II is coming off a thrilling comeback 2-1 win over Orlando City B to end the season second in the Eastern Conference. An incredible accomplishment with the club being on the outside of the playoff picture for parts of the season.
However, TFC II came on strong toward the end of its campaign as the team strung together a 10-match unbeaten run that propelled them up the standings.
Union II had a similar path to the playoffs with the team struggling to maintain a top four spot but it ultimately created momentum through several winning streaks that led the club to snatch the third seed in the East.
Case in point, the team finished the season with two wins and one being a 6-1 thumping of Orlando City B.
This match has the potential of going to a shootout as both sides are evenly matched. One statistic that showcases this is that both sides have five players that scored four or more goals in the season.
St Louis CITY2 vs North Texas SC (7:30 p.m. ET / 6:30 p.m. CT / 4:30 p.m. PT)
The playoffs continue Sunday evening when West top seed St Louis CITY2 hosts North Texas SC.
Despite finishing the season atop the Western Conference, CITY2 is not coming into this match in ideal form. The team drew 1-1 against Sporting KC II in the last game of the season and lost the prior two games to North Texas SC and Houston Dynamo 2.
That being said, CITY2 has shown that it has another gear it can reach. Prior to those three games, the team won four straight matches and scored 16 goals in that span.
North Texas SC, on the other hand, is coming into the game in great form despite losing 2-0 to Houston Dynamo 2 in its last game. Before that loss, the team won six straight games with one being against CITY2.
Both sides have consistently been at the top of the Western Conference all season and both won against each other in the two prior matchups.
Look out for a neck and neck game as CITY2 might have a more well-rounded team, but one can’t count out North Texas SC’s electric frontline that’s led by forward Bernard Kamungo whose 16 goals saw him finish second in the inaugural Golden Boot race.
Tacoma Defiance vs Houston Dynamo 2 (10:30 p.m. ET / 9:30 p.m. CT / 7:30 p.m. PT)
To finish the first round of the playoffs, the Tacoma Defiance hosts Houston Dynamo 2 at Starfire Sports Complex Sunday night.
Tacoma Defiance finished as the second seed in the West but have yet to turn it up another level. The team lost its last game 2-0 to Timbers 2 and in its last five games, it lost three with the two wins being slim 1-0 ones. Not exactly the form that made Tacoma a fearsome force int the West, but that can change in a flash as the team always poses a threat to score with the likes of Marlon Vargas and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez leading the attack.
That being said, the Houston Dynamo 2 have shown all year that this team won’t go down without a fight.
Prior to a 1-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids 2, the club was on a 10-match unbeaten run. In that span, half of those wins were clean sheets.
That being said, both sides could easily turn up and destroy each other while at the same time forcing a shootout because of the sturdy backlines. It’ll definitely be a must-watch.