The 2023 MLS NEXT Pro regular season has come and gone but the stellar campaigns delivered by many standout players won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
Colorado Rapids 2, Austin FC II, and Crown Legacy FC were just a handful of eight overall clubs to have players chosen in the 2023 Best XI. A total of nine of the 11 players that were chosen on this prestigious list will be taking part in the upcoming MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs, which kicks off on Friday.
Rapids 2 led the way with three nominees in the Best XI while Austin FC II had two selections.
Here is a closer look at the MLS NEXT Pro Best XI for 2023:
Austin FC II led MLS NEXT Pro with the fewest goals conceded during the regular season and goalkeeper Damian Las was a major reason for that achievement.
Las, a former U.S. youth national team standout goalkeeper, made 27 regular season starts for Brett Uttley’s squad. Las led all goalkeepers with 2,430 minutes played, clean sheets (12), and wins (16) as Austin FC II finished fourth in the Western Conference.
He is one of two goalkeepers (Jeffrey Gal, Chicago Fire II) to register a Goals Against Average (GAA) less than 1.00 while also making double-digit appearances in 2023. Las will now turn his sights on helping Austin FC II in the first round of the playoffs.
His clean sheet mark doubled his nearest competitors in 2023 and reset the record in the MLS NEXT Pro history book.
2023 marked the second consecutive impressive season for Tacoma Defiance’s Abdoulaye Cissoko.
Cissoko made 14 appearances for the Defiance during the regular season, contributing five goals (second-most among MLS NEXT Pro defenders). The 23-year-old also made 22 interceptions, which ranked among the top five among Defiance players this season.
Wade Webber’s squad was one of the dominant home teams in 2023, tying with five other teams who also registered nine victories on home soil. Cissoko has scored twice in his last five appearances for the Defiance, which is a positive trend heading into the postseason.
Austin FC II’s defensive corps shined in 2023, but Joe Hafferty shone brightest during a dominant individual regular season.
Hafferty logged 2,246 minutes for Brett Uttley’s backline, which was the second-most among all outfield players in the squad. The 25-year-old led all Austin FC II players with 225 duels while also finishing second and 28 interceptions.
A former three-time All-Pac 12 selection at Oregon State University, Hafferty earned his first MLS call-up in September and will certainly be on the Austin FC first-team radar in 2024.
Crown Legacy FC enjoyed plenty of success during its inaugural MLS NEXT Pro campaign and defender Joao Pedro was one of the key leaders on the field.
Pedro’s 2,086 minutes played were the fourth-most in Jose Tavares’ squad while his 22 key passes ranked as the third-most. Defensively, his 28 interceptions were among the top three most in the Crown Legacy FC squad, showing consistency on both ends of the field.
The Atletico Paranaense loanee also contributed two goals and three assists, giving the Charlotte FC front office plenty to consider before his loan expires at year’s end.
Nicolas Firmino delivered a breakout 2023 campaign, which almost led to ATL UTD 2 reaching the MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs.
Firmino’s 16 goals ranked him fourth in the league’s Golden Boot race while his six assists were the most by any player with 15 goals scored or more. A former New England Revolution II player, Firmino’s heroics helped ATL UTD 2 fight for an Eastern Conference playoff spot until the penultimate week of the regular season.
He also enjoyed a breakout debut for the Five Stripes’ first team, scoring on his debut against the New York Red Bulls. Firmino’s goal-scoring and creative abilities will surely have him on Gonzalo Pineda’s radar for the final weeks of the MLS regular season.
It’s not often you see players 20-years-old or younger among the league leaders in goals, but Ibrahim Kasule was an exception in MLS NEXT Pro.
The 19-year-old Ugandan international finished among the top six in the MLS NEXT Pro Golden Boot race, contributing 15 goals and adding five assists in 25 regular season appearances. Kasule was impactful for New York Red Bulls II this year, rising to the occasion for Ibrahim Sekagya’s squad.
His 50 key passes were tied for the third-most in MLS NEXT Pro while Kasule also scored multiple goals in May, June, July, and August. After a breakout 2023 campaign, Kasule will now turn his attention towards a deep playoff run with Red Bulls II
Colorado Rapids 2 dominated in the Western Conference this regular season and one of those key contributors was Yosuke Hanya.
Hanya totaled 13 goals and nine assists for Erik Bushey’s squad, scoring in six straight appearances during the first half of the season. The 24-year-old was creative in many ways for Rapids 2, drawing 37 fouls (second-most on the team) and making 31 key passes (second-most on the team).
A clinical finisher and strong two-way player, Hanya will be among several leading stars for Rapids 2 in the postseason.
Oliver Larraz took a major step forward in his overall development, earning Best XI honors in 2023.
Larraz, 22, registered nine goals and eight assists for Colorado Rapids 2, serving as one of the more influential playmakers in MLS NEXT Pro this season. His 55 key passes ranked first among all players this season while he also completed 87.5% of his passes overall.
With the Rapids' first team needing a revamp in 2024, Larraz’s impactful campaign might be what helps him earn a larger role next season.
A former Notre Dame standout, Lynn finished tied for the league’s Golden Boot award after notching 19 goals for Orlando City B. After registering 15 goals in 2022, Lynn upped his production one step higher, leading OCB to a fifth-place finish in the Eastern Conference standings.
Lynn scored on half of his shots on target (19 of 38) and is also MLS NEXT Pro’s all-time goalscorer with 34 combined goals in two seasons. Lynn has already four appearances with Orlando City’s first team under his belt and will be fighting for more opportunities after another standout season with OCB.
It was a debut campaign to remember for Matthew "MD" Myers in MLS NEXT Pro.
Myers finished tied in the league’s Golden Boot race this season, registering 19 goals in 28 appearances for NYCFC II. A former collegiate player at High Point University and Rutgers University, Myers signed with NYCFC II last winter and made an immediate impact in the squad.
Alongside John Denis and Jonathan Jimenez, Myers helped form a dangerous attacking trio for NYCFC II, keeping them in the playoff race until the final day of the regular season. Myers hit the ground running in 2023 and will have loftier goals heading into 2024.
Colorado Rapids 2 had plenty of standout attackers in 2023 but Rémi Cabral took the cake for the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed.
Cabral tied with Lynn and Myers for the MLS NEXT Pro Golden Boot award, scoring 19 goals in only 1,410 minutes of regular season action. The Frenchman made just 20 appearances for Erik Bushey’s men but made quite the impact in his debut season for the club.
Cabral’s hat trick on Decision Day helped him earn a share of the Golden Boot award this fall and capped off a sensational campaign. Now the focus for Cabral will be to propel Rapids 2 into the MLS NEXT Pro Cup later this October.