What to watch for at 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Invitational 

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A trio of MLS NEXT Pro clubs earned the opportunity to test themselves against some of the top English academies in 2022 and two returning clubs and one new face will have a new opportunity in 2023 to do the same against English and German opposition. 

The second-ever MLS NEXT Pro Invitational is set to kick off on July 18 with Crystal Palace’s Under-23 and Hoffenheim’s Under-21 squads embarking to the United States for continued preparation ahead of their new league seasons. 

For both Crystal Palace and Hoffenheim, the trip to the United States will provide a new level of competition during their respective preseason camps while Real Monarchs, Colorado Rapids 2, and Whitecaps FC 2 are past the midway point of the current MLS NEXT Pro season. 

With the invitational set to kick off on Tuesday, here is a closer look at each team and the players to watch:

Colorado Rapids 2


Colorado Rapids 2 enter the invitational as one of the dominant sides in MLS NEXT Pro this season.

Erik Bushey’s squad sit top of the Western Conference on 40 points and are second overall in the league, one point back of Crown Legacy FC. Yosuke Hanya has been the key man for Rapids 2 this season, leading the team with nine goals while also registering three assists.

However, others have also chipped in throughout the first half of the season, including Oliver Larraz, Remi Cabral, and Marlon Vargas (13 goals, 11 assists combined). 17-year-old U.S. youth national team goalkeeper Adam Beaudry has been important on the back end, registering three clean sheets to date and conceding just 11 goals in nine starts.

Rapids 2 have only one match in the tournament, but will be hoping to continue their winning ways.

Real Monarchs


Real Monarchs will be defending their home turf over the next week with two matches coming up against both Crystal Palace and Hoffenheim.

Jamison Olave’s men have been up-and-down in 2023, but are starting to show better signs of consistency compared to 2022. Ilijah Paul’s four goals in MLS NEXT Pro currently lead the team while Terron Williams’ three goals and 1,197 minutes played are both ranked second in the club ranks.

21-year-old Daron Idkenderian has also been key of late for Real Monarchs, registering two goals and one assist in six appearances.

Gennard Nigro is a rising talent to watch in the Monarchs backline with 18 interceptions and 179 duels under his belt.

Whitecaps FC 2


Whitecaps FC 2 are one of several teams in the playoff hunt in the Western Conference, but will put that quest on hold ahead of their one match at the invitational.

Ricardo Clark’s men have made the most of their home matches at Swangard Stadium, earning six of their eight regulation victories at the Canadian venue. However, their road form will need to improve if they want to finish regular season play in the top-four of the West.

Five players have registered two goals or more this season, with Levonte Johnson leading the team with seven tallies of his own. Giovanni Aguilar and Antoine Coupland have also been important attacking players this season with four goals and six assists combined in league play.

Vasco Fry and Elage Bah have registered over 1,200 minutes apiece this season and are hard working players in the midfield and backline respectively.

Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace’s Under-21 squad enjoyed a fourth-place finish during the 2022-23 PL2 season and Darren Powell will be hoping for similar success from his team this year. 

Palace’s academy have produced several standout graduates over the years including Wilfried Zaha, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Moses and Tyreek Mitchell. Now the next crop of young talent will be fighting to make a name for themselves, starting with a trio of matches. 

18-year-old David Ozoh led the team in minutes last season and returns in midfield after a two-goal, two-assist haul in 2022-23. 19-year-old Jack Wells-Morrison is a key attacking player after five goals and three assists in league play last season. 

Ademola Ola-Adebomi led the team with eight goals in league play last season and returns to headline the Young Eagles’ attack.


Hoffenheim II finished third in the Regionalliga Sudwest (fourth-division) last season, coming three points short of earning promotion to the 3. Liga. 

Vincent Wagner returns as head coach of the Under-23’s and retains several key players from last season’s impressive run into the top-half of the standings. 

19-year-old German youth national team midfielder Muhammed Damar registered seven goals and nine assists for Hoffenheim II and remains a top prospect in the club’s system. 18-year-old Umut Tohumcu is also a dangerous midfielder after totaling five goals and six assists in 23 appearances last season. 

Fisnik Asllani is a promising attacking talent for Hoffenheim after leading the team with 14 goals in league play. Asllani has already made 10 senior appearances for Hoffenheim at the age of 20-years-old.

American first team manager Pellegrino Matarazzo helped Hoffenheim escape Bundesliga relegation last spring and could be monitoring his youth team’s progress in Utah.

Here is a breakdown for the entire Invitational schedule:

  • Tuesday, July 18: TSG Hoffenheim U23 vs. Colorado Rapids 2 (10 p.m. ET/8:00 p.m. MT)
  • Wednesday, July 19: Crystal Palace U21 vs. Real Monarchs (10:30 p.m. ET/8:30 p.m. MT)
  • Friday, July 21: TSG Hoffenheim U23 vs. Crystal Palace U21 (10 p.m. ET/8:00 p.m. MT)
  • Monday, July 24: TSG Hoffenheim U23 vs. Real Monarchs (10 p.m. ET/8:00 p.m. MT)
  • Tuesday, July 25: Crystal Palace U21 vs. Whitecaps FC 2 (10 p.m. ET/8:00 p.m. MT)