Week 22 of the MLS NEXT Pro campaign is here and the legs are finally being put on the table. Teams are making late playoff pushes, top sides are dropping points unexpectedly and the goals keep flowing. In other words, chaos has taken over MLS NEXT Pro as the season winds down, with just five weeks until the regular season ends and the respective conference tables are set in stone.
Let's take a look at this weekend's matches and preview what’s in store for us all.
Columbus Crew 2 can become the first team in MLS NEXT Pro to clinch a fall playoff spot, and all they need to do is take three points on the road against OCB. With NEXT Pro leading goalscorer Jacen Russell-Rowe at the helm it’s surely a possibility. However, an in-form OCB side stands in their way.
OCB are coming off of an impressive 5-2 midweek victory over Eastern Conference playoff contenders RNY FC. The dominant performance saw Golden Boot candidate Jack Lynn score his 15th goal of the campaign, tying Russell-Rowe.
It will be a battle between the top strikers in the league come Saturday.
Fire II will look to spoil the NYCFC II party Saturday evening, as the boys in blue look to further secure their place in the playoffs this Fall. Currently occupying the third place spot in the Eastern Conference, NYCFC II will look for three points against a struggling Fire II side.
With their last win coming on July 10, Fire II are looking to bounce back to their winning ways and keep NYCFC II out of the win column. Winless in their last four, NYCFC II have fallen out of form, which could prove challenging in a very tight Eastern Conference playoff race.
Three points is a must for the away side this weekend.
Defiance are the second team that has an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot this weekend and it will involve a necessary three points at home, with a little more help. A win over SKC II AND an Earthquakes II loss or draw will see them through to the postseason.
Coming off of a disappointing result against MNUFC2 last weekend, where they conceded a 90th minute winner, Defiance want to bounce back and climb back to the top.
Standing in their way, though, will be SKC II.
SKC II are coming off of an impressive performance where they knocked off Timbers2 2-0, keeping the clean sheet and all. It won’t be easy for Defiance, as the away side will look to halt their celebrations early.
Two of the most intriguing Eastern Conference sides clash Sunday in a race for a playoff spot. RNY FC sit 4th in the East – the final playoff spot – but are just one point ahead of Inter Miami II, with each team being level on matches played with just five to go. It’s arguably the most important match left in this campaign for each side.
RNY FC are coming off a midweek disaster, where a 1-0 lead turned into a 5-2 loss against OCB. They’ll need to recollect their thoughts and goalscoiring boots if they want to earn the win on the road this weekend.
Inter Miami II, however, are in the best form of their season going unbeaten in their last seven matches. In the two sides first meeting this season though, RNY FC took three points in a dominant 4-1 display.
In a season-altering match, each team will be looking for three points. This is an exciting match to even think about.
Union II hosts Revs II in a match between two Eastern Conference playoff hopefuls. Revs II are just one point out of a playoff spot while Union II are just two points behind the 4th place RNY FC.
It’s a must-win match for each side as they look to bolster their postseason chances. Union II, however, have a game-in-hand with six remaining compared to Revs II’s five.
The hosts are unbeaten in their last four matches, coming off an impressive two-point display against Inter Miami II where goalkeeper Matthew Freese was phenomenal in the match and kicks from the spot.
Revs II on the other hand have only won one match in their last eight. Early season success has turned into late-season turmoil, and they now have little time to turn things around. They’re in must-win territory.
One of the hottest teams across MLS NEXT Pro at the moment, TFC II are the definition of in-form. They went from four-straight losses in May to unbeaten in their last nine matches. They have climbed all the way up to 2nd place in the Eastern Conference.
FCC2 sit bottom of the Eastern Conference but pulled off what might be the most impressive performance of Week 21, taking two points in a 3-3 draw with Columbus Crew 2.
TFC II and FCC2 have met twice this season, with each side taking three points once. This time, it will be for all the marbles (and bragging rights).
Real Monarchs season is not over, but they’re completely out of the playoff race. Mathematically, it is impossible for them to climb the table at this point. However, they can still play spoiler.
MNUFC2 are in must-win territory heading into the weekend. They’re coming off their most impressive result of the campaign – a 2-1 victory over then league-leaders Tacoma Defiance – and are in fine form. The winner came in the 90th minute from summer transfer window loanee Sagir Arce.
However, some summer slip-ups have the Loons in a spot where they cannot take anything less than three points if they want a shot at a playoff spot. As things stand, they are seven points out from the final Western Conference playoff spot.
Our featured Week 22 Game of the Week, more can be found on this matchup here.