Surprise Selections in First Round Highlight New MLS NEXT Pro Pick-Your-Opponent Playoff Format


- Benny Feilhaber, Sporting KC II Head Coach

MLS NEXT Pro announced today the schedule for the first round of the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs, which begin this Friday, September 29. After a thrilling Decision Day on Sunday, the intense competition continued off the field as part of the League’s first-ever pick-your-opponent playoff format.

The biggest surprise of the selection process came when the Western Conference’s No. 3 Sporting KC II chose No. 4 Austin FC II to meet in the Conference Quarterfinals this weekend.

SKC II head coach Benny Feilhaber explained his club’s decision to make the unconventional choice: “We’re picking Austin because scared money don’t make money. They’ve been at the top of the conference the whole year. We’re excited to play them.”

MLS NEXT Pro’s new playoff format allows the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in each conference to choose their opponent from the No. 4-7 seeds and host that team in the Conference Quarterfinals. Following the second and third seed selections, the remaining two teams in each conference are slated to face each other, with the higher seed hosting. The No. 1 seeds in the Eastern and Western Conferences - Crown Legacy FC and Colorado Rapids 2, respectively - receive a first-round bye and automatically advance to the Conference Semifinals, where they will select their opponents from the two lowest seeds remaining in their Conference after the Quarterfinals.

In the Eastern Conference, No. 2 New England Revolution II chose the customary bracket opponent, No. 7 Philadelphia Union II, while No. 3 Columbus Crew 2 – defending MLS NEXT Pro Cup Champions – broke from tradition by selecting No. 5 Orlando City B. In the West, after No. 2 Tacoma Defiance opted for No. 7 Houston Dynamo 2, Sporting KC II selected No. 4 Austin FC II, who had spent much of the season towards the top of the Western standings.

2023 MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs Bracket

The Conference Quarterfinals schedule is as follows (all matches broadcast on MLS Season Pass on the Apple TV app):

Eastern Conference
Sunday, October 1
New York Red Bulls II (No. 4) vs. Chicago Fire II (No. 6) – MSU Soccer Park (1 p.m. ET)
Columbus Crew 2 (No. 3) vs. Orlando City B (No. 5) – Historic Crew Stadium (5:30 p.m. ET)
New England Revolution II (No. 2) vs. Philadelphia Union II (No. 7) – Gillette Stadium (8 p.m. ET)

Western Conference
Friday, September 29
Sporting Kansas City II (No. 3) vs. Austin FC II (No. 4) – Rock Chalk Park (8 p.m. ET)

Sunday, October 1
St Louis CITY2 (No. 5) vs. Earthquakes II (No. 6) – CITYPARK (6 p.m. ET)
Tacoma Defiance (No. 2) vs. Houston Dynamo 2 (No. 7) – Starfire Sports Complex (10 p.m. ET)

Within each conference, the two Division Champions plus the five teams with the next-highest point totals (seven teams total) qualified for the playoffs. In the Eastern Conference, Crown Legacy FC won the Northeast Division title as well as clinched the top seed in the East, while Columbus Crew 2 claimed the Central Division title. In the West, Colorado Rapids 2 won the Frontier Division and the top seed in the conference, while Tacoma Defiance clinched the Pacific Division.

The No. 1 overall seed was also determined on Decision Day, with Colorado Rapids 2 (19-4-5, 66 points) edging out Crown Legacy FC (19-4-5, 66 points) on goal differential. The two clubs entered the final day of the regular season with identical records and with both winning their respective matches, the second tiebreaker (after number of regulation wins) was needed to decide who would finish as No. 1 overall and earn the right to home field advantage throughout the playoffs, including MLS NEXT Pro Cup.

Following this weekend’s Eastern and Western Conference Quarterfinals, the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs will continue the weekend of October 6 with the Conference Semifinals. The Conference Finals will take place the weekend of October 13, with the postseason culminating on October 22 with MLS NEXT Pro Cup. All matches will air live on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV.