MLS NEXT Pro 2023 Opening Week Preview

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Five months after Columbus Crew 2 lifted the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro Cup, the 2023 regular season is upon us, with 27 clubs looking to hit the ground running on opening weekend.

Seven new clubs enter the fold in 2023 with Week 1’s headlining clash between two new faces. Crown Legacy FC hosts Huntsville City FC on Sunday afternoon with both teams looking to set the standard for what is to come in their debut seasons.

LAFC2, LA Galaxy II, New York Red Bulls II, and ATL UTD 2 will kickstart their lives in MLS NEXT Pro with all four teams in action on Sunday. Monday’s final match of Week 1 comes from Northern Kentucky University as FC Cincinnati 2 welcomes TFC II to town.

Friday’s two-match slate launches with a Texas Derby between Austin FC II and Houston Dynamo 2 at Parmer Field. Both of those games will air on MLS Season Pass.

Here is a closer look at what’s to come on Opening Weekend:

Friday - 03/24

Austin FC II vs. Houston Dynamo 2 (9 p.m. ET, MLS Season Pass on Apple TV)

The first Texas Derby comes your way on Friday, with Austin FC II welcoming Houston Dynamo 2 to Parmer Field.

After making several acquisitions this winter and spring, Austin FC II has a good mix of familiar and new faces on its roster Jonathan Santillan, 18, comes to Austin FC after delivering a stellar 2022 year with Queensboro FC, scoring 30 goals in the United Premier Soccer League’s (UPSL) spring season. Cheick Toure is also a player to watch after featuring for a pair of Dutch Eredivisie clubs before his move to MLS NEXT Pro.

Kenny Bundy returns for Dynamo Dos as his team looks to return to the playoffs in the 2023 season. The team from Houston has added several players, including the recent signing of Iffy Udanoh, who spent two seasons with the Stoke City youth academy across the pond, and Isiah Reid, who was Houston Dynamo's 34th overall pick in the 2023 MLS Super Draft.

Friday’s late-night match comes from Utah as Real Monarchs try to claim their first head-to-head win against MNUFC2. 

MNUFC2 defeated Real Monarchs on both occasions in 2022 and will seek a third-consecutive result. Cam Knowles will have two important players back this season after both dealt with lengthy injuries last year. Emmanuel Iwe and Trinidad and Tobago international Jesse Khan are back and healthy for the squad and will fight to stay that way in 2023. Will Pulisic, the cousin of USMNT stand-out Christian, is the likely No. 1 goalkeeper candidate.

We expect to see one of the brightest young talents in action in Axel Kei for the Monarchs. He scored three goals in 13 appearances and is expected to get valuable minutes with the team from Salt Lake City.

Real Monarchs showed plenty of promise despite not making the playoffs last year, and Jamison Olave will hope that promise turns into results in 2023. Tyrone Mondi returns after leading Real Monarchs last season with eight goals, while Terron Williams is also back after recently scoring his first professional goal. There are several youth national team players to watch in the Monarchs squad, including Fernando Delgado (Mexico), Omar Alba (Panama), and Benjamin Rodriguez (Uruguay).

Sunday - 03/26

Crown Legacy FC vs. Huntsville City FC (3 p.m. ET, MLS Season Pass on Apple TV)

Two of the seven new arrivals in MLS NEXT Pro square off from Mecklenburg County Sportsplex at Matthews with an early opportunity for three points on the line.

Crown Legacy FC will aim to follow in Charlotte FC’s footsteps by making a major splash in Year No. 1. Jose Tavares has plenty of promising international players on his roster with Serbian international Nikola Petkovic, Cape Verde international Iuri Tavares, and Brazilian youth international João Pedro headlining the squad.

Huntsville City FC will also be an intriguing roster to watch, with recent signings trying to make an immediate impact in the squad. Joey DeZart, 24, has 29 MLS appearances under his belt as he just signed with Huntsville City FC on Tuesday. Defender Sean Suber and forward Shaun Joash also recently joined the club, while Isaiah Johnston was a standout performer in the Canadian Premier League in 2022.

Sunday - 03/26

St Louis CITY2 vs. Tacoma Defiance (6 p.m. ET, MLS Season Pass on Apple TV)

Two of the top teams from the 2022 campaign will clash for the first time in 2023.

St Louis CITY2 reached the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro Cup last fall before losing to eventual champions, Columbus Crew 2. Bobby Murphy takes over as head coach, bringing back 11 players from last season’s roster, including Max Schneider, Wan Kuzain, Dida Armstrong, and Sergio Rivas. Six players from the 2022 roster have already been promoted to the MLS roster following standout seasons.

Tacoma Defiance finished as one of the highest-scoring teams last season, and the goal for Wade Webber’s squad will provide more of the same in 2023. Many of the standouts from 2022 are gone, but several new faces will be eager to play a starring role, including Paul Rothrock, Gio Miglietti, and Braudilio Rodrigues.

New York Red Bulls II vs. Columbus Crew 2 (7 p.m. ET, MLS Season Pass on Apple TV)

Defending MLS NEXT Pro Cup winner, Columbus Crew 2 hit the road on opening weekend for a New York Red Bulls II showdown.

Laurent Courtois’ squad remains filled with several important pieces from their title-winning roster last year, including forwards Noah Fuson, Zion Scarlett, and midfielder captain Marco Micaletto. Gibran Rayo was a significant addition to Crew 2 after the attacking midfielder scored 13 goals in 2022.

New York Red Bulls II will make their MLS NEXT Pro debut, retaining several key figures in their squad. Ibrahim Sekagya continues as head coach for NYRB II after a lengthy playing career in Uganda, Argentina, Austria, and the United States. O’Vonte Mullings is one of NYRB II’s top players following a five-assist haul in 2022.

LAFC2 vs. North Texas SC (8 p.m. ET, MLS Season Pass on Apple TV)

LAFC 2 begins its life in MLS NEXT Pro with a tricky test against North Texas SC on Sunday night.

Enrique Duran’s squad is filled with several academy players, including Bryan Moyado and the club’s first MLS NEXT Pro signing, Christopher Jaime. Moyado was named the U-17 MLS Next MVP for the 2021-22 season and was also named to the West team roster for the 2022 MLS Next All-Star game. Jaime featured in the USL last season for Las Vegas Lights.

North Texas SC will be under new leadership in 2023, with Javier Cano taking over as head coach for Pa-Modou Kah. Cano has plenty of new faces in his roster, with North Texas SC making ten additions this offseason. Henri Marinho dos Santos arrived on loan from Brazilian heavyweights Palmeiras, while Theo Henrique also arrived from South America. Hope Avayevu is back after a five-goal, nine-assist haul in 2022.

ATL UTD 2 vs. New England Revolution II

Another new face in MLS NEXT Pro is ATL UTD 2, which will host New England Revolution II on Sunday night.

Steve Cooke brings many years of coaching experience, with several young players fighting to be key leaders in 2023. Forward Erik Centeno, goalkeeper Justin Garces, and defender Efrain Morales all featured in the USL for ATL UTD 2. Homegrown midfielder Alan Carleton, the brother of former academy standout Andrew, will join him.

Clint Peay’s Revolution II squad is back and eager to fight for a playoff berth this season. Several of last year’s standouts have been promoted to the first team, including Noel Buck, Esmir Bajraktarevic, and Damian Rivera. Noble Okello is new to the squad after four seasons in the Toronto FC system, and Okello will be a pivotal veteran to many young players in the team.

Philadelphia Union II vs. Orlando City B

In a rematch of last season’s Decision Day, Philadelphia Union II faces Orlando City B in Eastern Conference action.

Marlon LeBlanc’s squad returns many faces from 2022, including Jose Riasco, Jesus Bueno, and Stefan Stojanovic. Paxten Aaronson has moved to Germany, and Quinn Sullivan, Jack McGlynn, and Brandan Craig are all with the first team but could feature for Union II if need be. 2023 draft pick Holden Trent could find his way into the No. 1 job in goal with Andre Blake and Joe Bendik in front of him at the MLS level.

Orlando City B returns Martin Perelman as head coach and two key starters in goalkeeper Javier Otero and midfielder/winger Moises Tablante. Otero led all MLS NEXT Pro goalkeepers in 2022 by making 100 saves during the regular season. Tablante remains a top dual threat after contributing six goals and four assists last year.

Inter Miami II vs. Chicago Fire II

Two teams that finished 2022 on the outside of the Eastern Conference Playoffs were Inter Miami II and Chicago Fire II.

Federico Higuain takes over as head coach of Inter Miami II following Darren Powell’s promotion to a first-team assistant coach. Higuain brings many years of playing experience to the sidelines with several promising talents in the squad. Tyler Hall has featured for several U.S. youth national teams, while Kobi Thomas, Bryan Destin, and Israel Boatwright are all players to watch.

Chicago Fire II didn’t have much go their way in 2022, but the return of Omari Glasgow is huge for Ludovic Talliander’s squad. Glasgow is currently with the Guyana national team for Concacaf Nations League matches, giving the 19-year-old another early opportunity of first-team action. His absence for the opening weekend of MLS NEXT Pro action means new faces must step up in the final third.

Earthquakes II vs. LA Galaxy II (8 p.m. ET, MLS Season Pass on Apple TV)

The MLS NEXT Pro version of the Cali Clasico takes place on Sunday night, with LA Galaxy II visiting Earthquakes II in a local affair.

LA Galaxy II begins life in MLS NEXT Pro with a tough test at PayPal Park this weekend. Ruben Ramos and Brandon Tellez are two young players to watch in 2023 after excelling at the academy levels for the Galaxy. The 15-year-old Ramos scored 24 goals in 24 appearances during the 2022 MLS NEXT campaign, while the 18-year-old Tellez was the Galaxy’s Academy Player of the Year.

Daniel De Geer returns as Quakes II head coach and will have a few talented youngsters to rely on this season. Midfielder Cruz Medina excelled for the U.S. Under-17 men’s national team, while goalkeeper Emi Ochoa and fellow midfielder Niko Tsakiris are also youth national team standouts. Max Arfsten’s departure leaves a major hole though in Quakes II’s attacking corps.

Colorado Rapids 2 vs. Sporting KC II (9 p.m. ET, MLS Season Pass on Apple TV)

Two teams hoping to be in the Western Conference playoff picture in 2023 are Colorado Rapids 2 and Sporting KC II.

Colorado Rapids 2 will have plenty of key returnees this season with Michael Edwards, and Yosuke Hanya, among others fighting for starting roles. Calvin Harris and Michael Travis enjoyed goals during the preseason and could be the go-to scorers starting on opening weekend. The big acquisitions joining the team this season will be MLS NEXT Pro Best XI Marlon Vargas, and Costa Rica International Daniel Chacon, who was in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup.

Benny Feilhaber returns as SKC II boss with the Western Conference club seeking a better overall campaign in 2023. Ralf Salifu’s departure leaves a big hole among the attacking options, but many players who were key starters last year are back. Bakary Bagayoko and Jahon Rad played ample minutes in 2022 and have continued to do so through the preseason.

Whitecaps FC 2 vs. Timbers2 (

Western Conference and Cascadia Cup rivals Whitecaps FC 2 and Timbers2 will meet in Sunday’s late match from Swangard Stadium.

Clark takes over for Nick Dasovic with Whitecaps FC 2, bringing ample years of playing experience to a new role. Vasco Fry and Levonte Johnson are two key players in the Canadian club’s squad this season, with Fry already excelling during the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro campaign. Fry made 23 appearances for Whitecaps FC 2 while Johnson recorded 11 goals and six assists in 25 appearances at Syracuse University in 2022.

Shannon Murray is gone from Timbers2, but four key players return to the squad for 2023. Julian Bravo, Victor Griffith, Dawson McCartney, and Selmir Miscic are back this season while all four of Portland's 2023 Draft picks also signed for Timbers2. McCartney was one of Timbers2’s top offensive weapons with three goals and four assists last year.

Monday - 03/27

FC Cincinnati 2 vs. TFC II (7 p.m. ET, MLS Season Pass on Apple TV)

FC Cincinnati 2 will have plenty to prove in its opening match of the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro season.

Tyrone Marshall is back as head coach of FCC2, with Arquimides Ordoñez and Salim Adams as his go-to leaders. The 19-year-old Ordonez is already receiving senior national team call-ups with Guatemala, and the 23-year-old Adams is set to represent Ghana in African Cup of Nations U-23 qualifiers. Both are poised for prominent roles for FCC2 this season.

TFC II enjoyed a positive 2022 campaign, and Gianni Cimini’s squad will push for more in 2023. Reshaun Walkes and Luka Gavran return after delivering their first solid seasons in the league. They will be essential on whether or not TFC II can be a primary threat in the Eastern Conference. Gavran was one of the top goalkeepers in 2022, posting a 1.33 GAA and 61 saves in 18 regular-season appearances.