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MLS NEXT Oct 02, 2023

MLS NEXT Pro Conference semifinal qualifiers set

NEW YORK – The field is set for the MLS NEXT Pro Conference Semifinals after six teams advanced from the Conference Quarterfinals this weekend, including two lower-seeded teams that upset their opponents on the road to move on in the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs.

With the new pick-your-opponent playoff format, the two No. 1 seeds – Colorado Rapids 2 (West) and Crown Legacy FC (East) – will now select who they will face in the Conference Semifinals from the two lowest-seeded teams remaining in their conferences.

The Conference Quarterfinals, where the No. 2 and No. 3 teams selected their opponents, kicked off in the West on Friday. No. 3 Sporting KC II hosted No. 4 Austin FC II because of Sporting’s surprising maneuver to choose the highest seed available to play. The move backfired for the home team, as Austin FC II emerged victorious, 2-0, off a stellar display by Los Verdes’ staunch defense, anchored by 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Goalkeeper of the Year Damian Las.

The first round continued on Sunday with the remaining five Quarterfinal matchups. No. 4 New York Red Bulls II welcomed No. 6 Chicago Fire II to MSU Soccer Park, where the Red Bulls scored three first-half goals on their way to a commanding 4-1 victory. New York was led by 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Best XI honoree Ibrahim Kasule, who notched two goals in the win.

Defending League Champions, No. 3 Columbus Crew 2, also selected their opponent out of traditional order, choosing to host No. 5 Orlando City B. Their fiercely contested match seemed bound for extra time before 2022 MLS NEXT Pro Cup MVP Marco Micaletto converted a penalty kick in the final minutes (90’+1’) to capture a 2-1 victory.

The final Eastern Conference match on Sunday saw No. 2 New England Revolution II face off against No. 7 Philadelphia Union II. The home team looked to have an easy 3-0 win in hand behind a brace from Esmir Bajraktarevic before Union II fought back to score twice within four minutes late in the second half. New England was able to hold on for a 3-2 win.

The Western Conference dramatics from Friday continued Sunday evening when No. 5 St Louis CITY2 hosted the best road team in the League, No. 6 Earthquakes II. Scoreless at halftime, the close matchup saw the visitors separate themselves in the second half. Earthquakes II scored twice in the final frame to secure the 2-0 win.

In the last match of the night and of the Quarterfinals, No. 2 Tacoma Defiance faced No. 7 Houston Dynamo 2. Tacoma raced out to a 3-1 lead at halftime that they eventually increased to 4-1 early in the second half. However, the visiting Dynamo Dos would not give up, battling back to within a goal after scoring twice in two minutes in the waning minutes of the match. Houston’s comeback attempt came up short, as they fell by a 4-3 final score.

The weekend’s victors – Austin FC II, New York Red Bulls II, Columbus Crew 2, New England Revolution II, Earthquakes II and Tacoma Defiance – advance to the Conference Semifinal round. After earning a first-round bye, No. 1 seeds Colorado Rapids 2 and Crown Legacy FC, will now take their turn in selecting their opponents. They will choose from the two lowest seeds remaining in their conference after the Quarterfinals – No. 3 Columbus Crew 2 and No. 4 New York Red Bulls II in the East and No. 4 Austin FC II and No. 6 Earthquakes II in the West. The second highest seeded team (No. 2 New England Revolution II in the East and No. 2 Tacoma Defiance in the West) will face the remaining team.

The Conference Semifinals matchups and schedule are expected to be announced on Tuesday on and @MLSNEXTPro on Twitter and Instagram. The second round will take place the weekend of October 6, with all matches airing live on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV.