The 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Cup is upon us!
With the MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs debuting a new pick-your-opponent format, this year's finalists vanquished teams who chose them. Getting picked by higher seeds only fueled Colombus Crew 2 and Austin FC II's fires to make it to the grandest stage in the league.
For the second straight year, Lower.com Field in Columbus, Ohio plays host to the occasion, and hometown heroes Crew 2 look to defend their crown as league champions.
It's certainly not going to be easy, though. Austin FC II has consistently been one of the best teams in the Western Conference this year and have earned their way to Sunday's stage by passing three straight road tests (earning clean sheets in each).
Whether you're tuning into MLS NEXT Pro for the first time, or you've been following all season – there is plenty to catch up on ahead of kick-off.
Here is a rundown of everything you need you need to know as we countdown the minutes to Sunday's showdown:
The 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Cup will stream exclusively on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV. The action is set to kick off at 5 pm Eastern.
You can also visit the Match Center in MLSNEXTPro.com to keep track of lineups, statistics, and match highlights.
Crew 2 and Austin FC II found their path to the MLS NEXT Pro Cup 2023 as third and fourth seeds in the Eastern and Western Conferences, respectively. Needless to say, it required some serious heroics to overcome opponent selections and get results on the road.
- READ MORE: 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Cup Preview
- READ MORE: Top 5 Things to watch in the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Cup
We also caught up with several parties on both sides to get a sense of the emotions. Hear from both coaches and a handful of players in their own words.
Despite dealing with a daunting amount of turnover from the 2022 roster and staff, Crew 2 finds themselves in the same place – hosting the Cup.
There are a few places of continuity from last year. Head coach Laurent Courtois has credited veteran players Marco Micaletto, Noah Fuson, and Abdi Mohamed for helping maintain the standard set in last year's championship season. By and large, Crew 2 successfully regenerated to fill holes left by 2022 Best XI selections Jacen Russell-Rowe (who also won MVP), Mohamed Farsi, Isaiah Parente, and Patrick Schulte.
And if you didn't know, Crew 2 is affectionately known as "The Capybaras," and you can read more about that here.
Regular Season record:
16W-9L-3T (54pts, 3 SOW, Third place in Eastern Conference)
2-1 win vs Orlando City B
1-0 win at Crown Legacy FC
1-0 win at New England Revolution II
The 2023 campaign was the very first for Austin FC II in any competition, which makes their Cup appearance quite commendable. They came hot out of the gate when the season opened up, going seven unbeaten in a row. If you've been following along all year, you probably had an early sense that they were set to be playoff favorites. A late-season winless skid of six matches to close out the season somewhat put that in jeopardy and made them look like an easy target in the new playoff format.
But being selected by Sporting KC II in the Conference Quarterfinals seems to have galvanized Brett Uttley's men, as they've been perfect ever since.
Regular Season record:
12W-4L-9T (49pts, 4 SOW, Fourth place in Western Conference)
2-0 win at Sporting KC II
1-0 win at Tacoma Defiance
0-0 tie, 4-1 SOW at Colorado Rapids 2