2024 MLS NEXT Pro opening matchweek preview

MLS NEXT Pro - 2024 season kickoff

Five months after Austin FC II lifted the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro title, the 2024 regular season is upon us with 29 clubs looking to hit the ground running.

Two new clubs enter the fold this season with Matchweek 1’s headlining matches featuring Carolina Core FC and Chattanooga FC.

Chattanooga will mark their league debut on Saturday with Huntsville City FC making the trip to Finley Stadium. Carolina Core FC will also make their league debut this weekend, traveling to second-year club Crown Legacy FC on Sunday.

Friday’s three-match slate pits defending champions Austin FC II against a new-look Tacoma Defiance.

Here is a closer look at what’s to come:

Friday, March 15

North Texas SC vs. Whitecaps FC 2

Choctaw Stadium will play host to the opening match of the 2024 MLS NEXT Pro regular season.

John Gall’s North Texas SC squad welcomes Whitecaps FC 2 to town on Friday night. North Texas SC won’t have the scoring abilities of Jose Mulato this season, but have several new faces to call on in Friday’s season opener. Nico Gordon and Pedrinho headline the talented acquisitions by North Texas SC this winter and both should fit nicely into the plans for 2024.

Whitecaps FC 2 will be seeking a strong start to 2024 after a frustrating second half of the season in 2023. Ricardo Clark also has plenty of new faces to call on this season, including 2023 collegiate standouts; defender Buster Sjöberg, midfielder Eliot Goldthorp, and forward Nicolas Fleuriau Chateau.

Austin FC II vs. Tacoma Defiance

The reigning MLS NEXT Pro champions will kick off their 2024 schedule in front of their home supporters.

Austin FC II hosts Tacoma Defiance in what should be a good first test for both clubs. Sal Mazzaferro and Cheick Toure return to anchor an Austin FC II backline that was among the best in the league last year. Both Mazzaferro and Toure should play ample minutes in Brett Uttley’s squad once again.

Tacoma Defiance sees Herve Diese take over for Wade Webber as head coach for this season. The Defiance may have lost several key pieces from their 2023 roster, but did acquire several new faces, including a few with MLS NEXT Pro experience under their belts. Faysal Bettache and Owen O’Malley are among the new players in the Defiance squad that will be eager to make an early name for themselves.

Real Monarchs vs. Timbers2

Real Monarchs and Timbers2 will square off in Friday’s final match of a three-match slate.

Mark Lowry takes over for Jamison Olave as head coach of Monarchs for 2024. Lowry brings over 200 matches of coaching experience to the squad and will rely on plenty of youthful talents this season. Omar Marquez and Juan "Gio" Villa are just a handful of exciting players that Lowry will have at his disposal for 2024.

Saturday, March 16

ATL UTD 2 vs. Orlando City B

Saturday’s two-match slate gets underway at Fifth Third Bank Stadium.

ATL UTD 2 signed eight players this winter ahead of Steve Cooke’s third season with the club. Javier Armas and Daniel Russo headline the former collegiate standouts that will fight for starting jobs in the ATL UTD 2 squad. Matías Gallardo and Karim Tmimi were retained for 2024 and could see larger roles in the squad after positive campaigns last season.

The Young Lions you will have a new leader on the touchline in 2024 with Manuel Goldberg taking over as Orlando City B’s Head Coach. Now the youngest coach in MLS NEXT Pro, Goldberg oversaw the professional development of numerous talented players in Orlando and helped the club achieve its first-ever MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs appearance in 2023. Goalkeeper Javier Otero and forward Favian Loyola will be relied upon to defend the Purple and Gold and attempt to lead the squad back to the playoffs in 2024.

Chattanooga FC vs. Huntsville City FC

Finley Stadium will surely be rocking on Saturday as Chattanooga FC begins life in MLS NEXT Pro.

Chattanooga FC welcomes 2023 debutants Huntsville City FC to town in an Eastern Conference affair. The MLS NEXT Pro new boys will be seeking a strong start to the new campaign and have plenty of veteran experience to rely on in their home opener. Trinidad & Tobago international Jesse Williams and English midfielder Callum Watson will be two anchors in Rod Underwood’s squad this year.

Huntsville City FC will have plenty of their standout performers from 2023 back in Jack Collison’s squad for another go-around. Forward Jonathan Bolanos is a key returnee that will bring stability and offense to a Huntsville City FC side that has renovated their squad. Simon Jillson made the move from LA Galaxy II and should compete for the No. 1 job in between the posts.

Sunday, March 17

Columbus Crew 2 vs. New York Red Bulls II

The reigning Eastern Conference champions get their season underway against New York Red Bulls II.

Columbus Crew 2 will once again rely on youth as they try to reach MLS NEXT Pro Cup for a third-straight campaign. Chris Rogers and Cole Johnson are among the young players signed for 2024 while Jacob Greene and Adrian Gonzalez were a pair of key acquisitions by Crew 2 this winter.

Goalkeeper Stanislav Lapkes enjoyed a strong end to 2023 and is one of the best at his position heading into the new season.

New York Red Bulls II possess one of the league’s attacking threats in the form of Ibrahim Kasule. Kasule scored 17 goals and added six assists last season, earning MLS NEXT Pro Player of the Month honors on two occasions (July, August). The Ugandan international will be key for Red Bulls II again this season and will be joined by several talented loanees (Malick Dembele, Jair Collahuazo).

Inter Miami II vs. NYCFC II

Federico Higuain’s Inter Miami II squad will be eager for a bounce-back campaign in 2024.

Inter Miami II struggled for consistency throughout 2023, but did have plenty of young players earn important playing time. 18-year-old Lorenzo D’Agostini is one of those returning starters after contributing three goals last season. Higuain will surely rely on many more young talents as Inter Miami II seeks an opening Matchweek win at home.

NYCFC II could very well hand out one of their youngest MLS NEXT Pro debuts in league history on Sunday. 14-year-old Peter Molinari signed from the New York City FC academy this winter and should be expected to see ample league minutes over the next few seasons. Last season’s leading goalscorer MD Myers is gone, but Molinari could be the new face of the squad.

Philadelphia Union II vs. TFC II

Philadelphia Union II head coach Marlon LeBlanc will have plenty of his young talents back for 2024.

C.J. Olney and David Vazquez both signed MLS NEXT Pro deals for this season, committing their futures to the Union franchise. Both Olney and Vazquez are U.S. youth national team players and enjoyed positive moments in 2023. Defender Randy Meneses will also be among those players seeking a long-term role in LeBlanc’s starting lineup this season.

Toronto FC II has new faces all throughout their squad heading into a trip to Subaru Park on Sunday. Goalkeeper Abraham Rodriguez joined from Colorado Rapids 2 while Brazilian defender Ythallo should also be among the leaders for Gianni Cimini’s men. 2024 MLS Draft pick Charlie Sharp excelled at Western Michigan University and will aim for similar success in Canada.


The Junior Gonzalez era gets underway for LAFC2 on Sunday night at Titan Stadium.

LAFC2 welcomes MNUFC2 to town in a crucial opening Matchweek Western Conference battle. Christopher Jaime headlines the returning talents for LAFC2, while midfielder Adrian Wibowo is back for 2024. Both players certainly have the ability to deliver this season, which is what Gonzalez will hope for in his first MLS NEXT Pro head coaching role.

There is plenty of chemistry in the MNUFC2 squad heading into the 2024 league campaign. Molik Khan, Fred Emmings, Alec Smir, and Kage Romanshyn Jr. are all back for the new season and will be among the leaders in the squad. Khan already has senior national team experience with Trinidad & Tobago while Emmings is a U.S. youth national team player.

Crown Legacy FC vs. Carolina Core FC

Carolina Core FC will open their MLS NEXT Pro schedule at the home of one of 2023’s top-performing clubs.

Luckily for Roy Lassiter, he will have plenty of experience in his squad ahead of a trip to Crown Legacy FC. Papa Ndoye, Jacob Evans, and Yekeson Subah bring 2023 experience to the Carolina Core FC squad and will be important in whether or not the expansion side can pull an upset on the road.

Crown Legacy FC impressed in its debut 2023 season and will look to take the next step in 2024. Julian Bravo and Cameron Duke made the move from other MLS NEXT Pro clubs and will join a talented roster in North Carolina. David Poreba’s loss will force others to step up in midfield.

FC Cincinnati 2 vs. Chicago Fire II

FC Cincinnati 2 will have a strong mix of experience and youth in their squad heading into a Matchweek 1 showdown with Chicago Fire II.

Moises Tablante and Nico Benalcazar made the move to FCC2, bringing MLS NEXT Pro reps to the squad. Both players could be focal points in how Tyrone Marshall’s squad wants to play this season. In addition, veteran midfielder Alejandro Guido joined FCC2 as a player-coach signing, bringing club and international experience to the squad.

Chicago Fire II will be seeking three points on the road in their opening match of 2024. Fire II possesses plenty of attacking talent for 2024 including Omari Glasgow, Luka Prpa, and loan acquisition David Poreba. Both Glasgow and Prpa were important players in 2023 while Poreba excelled whilst on loan at Crown Legacy FC.

Houston Dynamo 2 vs. Sporting KC II

Sporting KC II might have one of MLS NEXT Pro’s deadliest attacking units heading into the 2024 league campaign.

Pau Vidal is back to lead Benny Feilhaber’s attack while Roberto Avila and Kamron Habibullah joined the Western Conference club on respective moves. The trio of Vidal, Avila, and Habibullah have the potential to propel SKC II into an early conversation for Western Conference contender.

Houston Dynamo 2 will be seeking a strong start at home, especially with several familiar faces returning to the squad. Diego Gonzalez was one of the best players for Kenny Bundy’s squad in 2023 and is back to build off of his 13 goals scored last season. In addition, former Toronto FC prospect Ifunanyachi Achara has made the move to Texas and should bring goals and excitement to the group.

St. Louis CITY2 vs. Colorado Rapids 2

An intriguing Western Conference showdown also takes place on Sunday between St. Louis CITY2 and Colorado Rapids 2.

Rapids 2 won’t have the services of 2023 standouts Remi Cabral, Yosuke Hanya, or Oliver Larraz this season, but did bolster their squad in a positive way this winter. Alec Diaz made the move from Toronto FC II while Hal Uderitz should bolster their defensive options after his move from Tacoma Defiance.

Bobby Murphy’s St. Louis CITY2 squad will have key leaders returning in numerous areas on the field. 2023 leading-scorer John Klein is back after his 13-goal haul last season while defender Michael Wentzel logged over 2,500 minutes in the backline. Both Klein and Wentzel will be crucial on whether CITY2 can stay consistent for a third-straight campaign.

Galaxy II vs. The Town FC

Sunday’s final match of the weekend pits Galaxy II and the newly-renamed The Town FC against one another.

Galaxy II awarded several young talents with MLS NEXT Pro deals for 2024 including Ruben Ramos Jr and Harbor Miller. Both Ramos and Miller featured last season for Galaxy II and will earn additional playing time this season. Should Aaron Bibout remain with Galaxy II this season, he will be their top attacking threat in 2024.

The Town FC watched several 2023 standouts move elsewhere this winter, but have ample talent to fill the gaps. U.S. youth national team goalkeeper Emi Ochoa featured heavily in 2023 and is back for 2024, along with attacker Eduardo Blancas. Dual-national midfielder Cruz Medina could also see an increased role with the club this season.