This season, there was zero competition shortage within the MLS NEXT Pro Western Conference. Several playoff spots went down to the wire, and many standout stars came from teams above and below the red line.
Five teams in the West totaled 40 points or more during the regular season. St Louis CITY2, Tacoma Defiance, and Houston Dynamo 2 all finished level with 49 points. North Texas SC was also above the 45-point mark in the West, finishing as one of the four teams with 13 or more victories.
Many players impressed throughout the conference, with some being named to the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro Best XI. Even some who did not have the opportunity to feature in the MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs did walk away with impressive statistics as they prepared for even loftier goals in 2023.
Here is a closer look at our grades for all 11 Western Conference clubs:
Grade - 9.5
Josh Dolling: 9 goals, 3 assists in 23 appearances.
Akil Watts: 6 goals, 7 assists in 27 appearances.
Kyle Hiebert: 3 goals, 2,426 minutes played in 27 appearances.
Outlook - St Louis CITY2 finished one victory away from lifting silverware in its inaugural MLS NEXT Pro season, and now the goal for John Hackworth’s squad will be to get back to the cup in 2023. Players like Yaro and Hiebert have first-team contracts for 2023, so they will likely move on to MLS. The question will be, who else played their way into Bradley Carnell’s squad plans next spring for St Louis CITY SC’s MLS expansion campaign?
Grade - 9
Marlon Vargas: 13 goals, 6 assists in 25 appearances.
Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez: 9 goals, 4 assists in 25 appearances.
Randy Mendoza: 2 assists, 1,626 minutes played in 22 appearances.
Outlook - Tacoma Defiance had little issue scoring goals in 2022, but a lack of consistent scoring depth overall hurt them down the stretch of the MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs. Marlon Vargas, Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez, and Reed Baker-Whiting will all push for first-team roles in 2023, opening the door for new players to lead Wade Webber’s group. After being one of the most exciting teams to watch in 2022, the expectations will be high to replicate that trend next season.
Coaches Corner: Tacoma Defiance's Wade Webber
Grade - 8.5
Marcelo Palomino: 7 goals, 2 assists in 18 appearances.
Talen Maples: 3 goals, 1,980 minutes played in 22 appearances.
Kyle Edwards: 5 goals, 2 assists, in 12 appearances.
Outlook - Houston Dynamo 2 did well to be one of the top two-way teams in MLS NEXT Pro and despite losing head coach Kenny Bundy to a promoted first-team role, Dynamo Dos still earned a playoff berth. Although they did not have a double-digit goalscorer or assist man, Dynamo Dos relied heavily on their defense to carry the load of being successful. Will the team keep the same tactics under a new head coach in 2023?
Grade - 8.5
Bernard Kamungo: 16 goals, 5 assists in 25 appearances.
Hope Avayevu: 5 goals, 9 assists, in 23 appearances.
Antonio Carrera: 16 appearances, 18 goals conceded, 53 saves, 4 clean sheets
Outlook - North Texas SC’s versatile attacking unit caught the eyes of many MLS NEXT Pro fans in 2022, but the central question will be whether they can replicate that success under a new head coach. Pa-Modou Kah parted ways with the franchise following North Texas SC’s playoff elimination, opening the door for a new head coach this offseason. Bernard Kamungo, Jose Mulato, and Hope Avayevu are all likely candidates to try and crack FC Dallas’ bench in 2023, while Antonio Carrera is a talented goalkeeper for the future. It will be intriguing to see who fills the shoes of several top players next season.
Player Profile: Bernard Kamungo
Grade - 8
Rudi Castro: 12 goals, 2 assists in 20 appearances.
Max Arfsten: 9 goals, 6 assists in 24 appearances.
Omar Lemus: 3 assists, 1,831 minutes played in 22 appearances.
Outlook - Earthquakes II’s quest to reach the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs fell short, but overall, it wasn’t a bad season for the club. Alex Covelo’s early-season promotion to the first team forced an early-season coaching change, but much stayed the same within the squad. Rudi Castro and Max Arfsten were both talented forwards on the roster and are reportedly garnering interest from abroad. Emi Ochoa is a talented club and international goalkeeper who could use more immediate playing time next season. After finishing the second-best road record in the West in 2022, Quakes II could use that to their strength again in 2023.
Grade - 7.5
Top Performers -
Aziel Jackson: 10 goals, 7 assists in 23 appearances.
Tommy Williamson: 9 goals, 3 assists in 21 appearances.
Nabi Kibunguchy: 4 goals, 1,394 minutes played in 16 appearances.
Outlook - MNUFC2 relied heavily on the talents of a handful of players to keep them in the playoff race this season, but despite not making the postseason, the future is bright in St. Paul. Aziel Jackson and Tommy Williamson headlined the attacking unit, while Nabi Kibunguchy excelled as a talented fullback. 18-year-old Fred Emmings is one of several young goalkeepers within MLS NEXT Pro that could be the focal point of MNUFC2’s plans in 2023. If Jackson and Williamson earn first-team roles next season, immediate cover at the attacking positions will be needed to stay competitive.
Grade - 7
Simon Becher: 8 goals, 4 assists in 22 appearances.
Vasco Fry: 1 goal, 3 assists, 1,917 minutes played in 23 appearances.
Issac Boehmer: 10 appearances, 16 goals conceded, 30 saves, 1 clean sheet
Outlook - Whitecaps FC 2 finished among the top-four highest scoring defense in the Western Conference while also registering the fifth-fewest goals. Simon Becher led the way with eight goals in 2022, but more will be asked of the young attackers next season if the Canadian club wants to reach the postseason. The youth was on display for most of the season, though, which is a huge takeaway for Whitecaps FC 2. It provides many players with consistent minutes and considerable opportunities to develop themselves long-term.
Coaches Corner: Whitecaps FC 2's Nick Dasovic
Grade - 6.5
Rauf Salifu: 6 goals, 1 assist in 17 appearances.
Julian Vazquez: 4 goals, 3 assists in 20 appearances.
Collin Fernandez: 1 goal, 4 assists in 22 appearances.
Outlook - Sporting KC II showed spurts throughout the 2022 MLS NEXT Pro campaign, but overall it was a frustrating season for Benny Feilhaber and his players. SKC II struggled to consistently find the back of the net, finishing with only 31 goals scored in 24 matches. The team lacked a clear-cut No. 9 option with Mataeo Bunbury and Rauf Salifu both showing promising moments at times. Feilhaber will have a big job on his hands if he decides to stay at SKC II as head coach next season but will have players in his squad that has another year of experience under their belts.
Player Profile: Rauf Salifu
Grade - 6.5
Yaya Toure: 8 goals, 2 assists in 15 appearances.
Darren Yapi: 6 goals in 16 appearances.
Abraham Rodriguez: 17 appearances, 53 saves, 1 clean sheet
Outlook - Despite having several youthful attackers to call on, Colorado Rapids 2 struggled for consistency on both sides of the field. Their -23 goal differential did not help them in the race for the playoffs, eventually succumbing to a ninth-place finish in their inaugural season. Yaya Toure and Darren Yapi are two bright spots for the future and could be a dangerous duo in MLS if they continue on their projected paths. Abraham Rodriguez was a busy goalkeeper for Rapids 2 but did well to make top saves as the No. 1 goalkeeper. Rapids 2 will need to be impactful at home and on the road in 2023 to get themselves in the playoff picture next season.
Grade - 6
Tyrone Mondi: 8 goals in 17 appearances.
Pedro Fonseca: 7 goals, 4 assists in 20 appearances.
Axel Kei: 3 goals, 4 assists in 22 appearances.
Outlook - Real Monarchs allowed several young players to play in 2022, and many rose to the occasion for the club. Among others, Axel Kei, Terron Williams, and Abokye Bikyeombe took giant developmental steps in 2022, logging consistent minutes and playing against other top-league talents. Veteran forwards Tyrone Mondi, and Pedro Fonseca headlined the attack, making the most of their opportunity in a new and fruitful league. Monarchs’ six home wins were the fifth-most in the West, but their zero road victories hurt their push to be among the top six in the conference. Jamison Olave will feel confident that the Monarchs can compete with anyone after knocking off Tacoma Defiance, and Whitecaps FC 2, among others, down the final stretch of 2022.
Grade - 5.5
Dawson McCartney: 3 goals, 4 assists in 22 appearances.
Selmir Miscic: 3 goals, 6 assists in 23 appearances.
Victor Griffith: 1 assist, 1,688 minutes played in 19 appearances.
Outlook - Not much went right for Timbers2 in 2022 regarding their overall record, but the growth among several players is critical for the club's long-term plans. Shannon Murray awarded several players this season by putting them in vital roles and relying on them throughout the bulk of the team’s busy schedule. Although results didn’t go their way for most of the season, the fight in Timbers2’s squad did not falter as they fought to improve until the final whistle on Decision Day. The goal for Timbers2 in 2023 will be to be competitive at home and on the road and seek new ways to improve on both ends of the field.