The opportunity to test yourself against some of the top English academies is something many MLS NEXT Pro sides would like to do, and for Real Monarchs, Colorado Rapids 2, and TFC II, that dream will become a reality over the next two weeks.
The first-ever MLS NEXT Pro Invitational is set to kick off on July 19 with Chelsea and Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Under-21 sides embarking to the United States for continued preparation ahead of their new league seasons.
For both Chelsea and Wolves, the trip to the U.S. will provide a new level of competition during their respective preseason camps while Monarchs, Toronto FC II, and Rapids 2 are past the midway point of the inaugural 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:
There’s no surprise that Chelsea and Wolves will be playing the most matches in the invitational as both English clubs continue their preparations for a new PL2 season.
Chelsea’s U-21 side finished 12th in the 14-team PL2 Division 1 standings last season, a record that Mark Robinson and his players will hope to improve on this season. The Blues have many players who will work between the first team and second team this season, but several could play lead roles with the U-21’s in the coming months.
With several of last season’s key players currently with Chelsea’s first team, young talents such as Jude Soonsup-Bell, Omari Hutchinson, Jayden Wareham, and Lewis Hall will get their time to shine in the roster. As well as Scottish International Billy Gilmour who played on loan last season for Norwich City.
Wolves will also play three matches in Utah over the next two weeks as James Collins’ bunch gears up for a busy PL2 season.
Similar to the first team under Bruno Lage, Wolves will put in a lot of hard work on-and-off the ball, aiming to grind teams down with possession and offensive chances. Collins, a longtime defender with West Ham United, Aston Villa, and Cardiff City, brings plenty of experience to the coaching staff at Wolves and will now aim to get the best out of his growing group of prospects.
Owen Farmer, Owen Hesketh, and Tyler Roberts all played key roles last season for Wolves U-21 side and will be among the players to watch in Collins’ squad this summer.
Real Monarchs will get the action underway on Tuesday as Jamison Olave’s squad faces off with Chelsea’s U-21s at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Monarchs are riding a bit of confidence over the last three weeks, claiming their first two MLS NEXT Pro wins over Timbers2 and Sporting KC II respectively. Pedro Fonseca and Tyrone Mondi have been two of the better players for Monarchs this season, totaling nine goals and two assists between them.
14-year-old Axel Kei continues to be one talented youngster to watch as Monarchs will get one crack apiece at both Chelsea and Wolves. With confidence in the squad continuing to grow, Monarchs will be eager to use this invitational to spark a strong finish to the regular season.
Colorado Rapids 2 enter the invitational with three victories in its last five league matches, as the Western Conference club continues to try and boost its chances of getting into the playoff race.
Dantouma Toure has netted three goals in his last five appearances, while Darren Yapi is another promising talent who has received an early taste of England due to a past training stint with Arsenal. Both Toure and Yapi are future prospects for the Rapids’ first team while former Clemson University standout Philip Mayaka is also continuing his development within MLS NEXT Pro.
Rapids 2 will only have one match in the invitational against Wolves, but its still another prime exercise for this growing group of players.
Toronto FC II remains well in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference and a one-match showdown with Chelsea will certainly benefit the current group of players.
TFC II is riding a four-match unbeaten run coming into Monday’s MLS NEXT PRO Game of the Week showdown with Philadelphia Union II. While the Eastern Conference club has only netted four goals in the past 360 minutes of action, Gianni Cimini’s side are grinding out results, with two of the recent performances resulting in shootout wins.
Themi Antonoglou and Hugo Mbongue headline the growing list of attacking options for TFC II while Alonso Coello leads the team in minutes played.
Chelsea will be a stern test for TFC II, but overall it’s another prime opportunity for these players to test themselves.