The 2023 MLS NEXT Pro regular season has come and gone, but the stellar campaigns delivered by many standout players won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
Colorado Rapids 2, Austin FC II, and Crown Legacy FC were just a few of the eight overall clubs to have players chosen in the 2023 Best XI. A total of nine of the 11 players chosen for the prestigious honor will be taking part in the upcoming MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs, which kicks off on Friday, Sept. 29.
Rapids 2 led the way with three selections in the Best XI while Austin FC II had two.
Here is a closer look at the MLS NEXT Pro Best XI for 2023:
Austin FC II led MLS NEXT Pro with the fewest goals conceded during the regular season, and goalkeeper Damian Las was a major reason for that achievement.
Las, a former US youth national team standout goalkeeper, made 27 regular season starts for Brett Uttley’s squad. Las led all goalkeepers with 2,430 minutes played, clean sheets (12) and wins (16) as Austin FC II finished fourth in the Western Conference.
He is one of two goalkeepers (Jeffrey Gal, Chicago Fire II) to register a goals against average (GAA) less than 1.00 while also making double-digit appearances in 2023. Las will now turn his sights on helping Austin FC II in the first round of the playoffs.
His clean sheet mark doubled his nearest competitors in 2023 and reset the record in the MLS NEXT Pro history book.
2023 marked the second consecutive impressive season for Tacoma Defiance’s Abdoulaye Cissoko.
Cissoko made 14 appearances for the Defiance during the regular season, contributing five goals (second-most among MLS NEXT Pro defenders). The 23-year-old also recorded 22 interceptions, which ranked among the top five among Defiance players this season.
Cissoko has scored twice in his last five appearances for the Defiance, which is a positive trend heading into the postseason.
Austin FC II’s defensive corps shined in 2023, but Joe Hafferty shone brightest during a dominant individual regular season.
Hafferty logged 2,246 minutes for Brett Uttley’s backline, which was the second-most among all outfield players in the squad. The 25-year-old led all Austin FC II players with 225 duels while also finishing with the second-most interceptions (28).
A former three-time All-Pac 12 selection at Oregon State University, Hafferty earned his first MLS call-up in September and will certainly be on the Austin FC first-team radar in 2024.
Crown Legacy FC enjoyed plenty of success during its inaugural MLS NEXT Pro campaign, and defender João Pedro was one of the key leaders on the field.
Pedro’s 2,086 minutes played were the fourth-most in Jose Tavares’ squad while his 22 key passes ranked as the third-most. Defensively, he made 28 interceptions, showing consistency on both ends of the field.
Nicolas Firmino delivered a breakout 2023 campaign, nearly leading ATLUTD 2 to the MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs.
Firmino’s 16 goals ranked fourth in the league’s Golden Boot race while his six assists were the most by any player with 15 goals scored or more.
He also enjoyed a breakout debut for the Five Stripes’ first team, scoring against the New York Red Bulls.
It’s not often you see players 20 years old or younger among the league leaders in goals, but Ibrahim Kasule was an exception in MLS NEXT Pro.
The 19-year-old Ugandan international finished among the top six in the MLS NEXT Pro Golden Boot race, contributing 15 goals and adding five assists in 25 regular season appearances. Kasule was impactful for New York Red Bulls II this year, rising to the occasion for Ibrahim Sekagya’s squad.
His 50 key passes were tied for the third-most in MLS NEXT Pro, and he also scored multiple goals in May, June, July, and August. After a breakout 2023 campaign, Kasule will now turn his attention towards a deep playoff run with Red Bulls II.
Colorado Rapids 2 dominated in the Western Conference this regular season, and one of the key contributors was Yosuke Hanya.
Hanya totaled 13 goals and nine assists for Erik Bushey’s squad, scoring in six straight appearances during the first half of the season. The 24-year-old was creative in many ways, drawing 37 fouls (second-most on the team) and making 31 key passes (second-most on the team).
A clinical finisher and strong two-way player, Hanya will be among several leading stars for Rapids 2 in the postseason.
Oliver Larraz took a major step forward in his overall development this season.
Larraz, 22, registered nine goals and eight assists for Colorado Rapids 2, serving as one of the more influential playmakers in MLS NEXT Pro. His 55 key passes ranked first among all players, and he completed 87.5% of his passes overall.
With the Rapids' first team needing a revamp in 2024, Larraz’s impactful campaign might be what helps him earn a larger role next season.
A former Notre Dame standout, Lynn finished tied for the league’s Golden Boot award with 19 goals for Orlando City B.
Lynn is MLS NEXT Pro’s all-time leading scorer with 34 combined goals in two seasons. He already has six appearances with Orlando City’s first team under his belt and will be fighting for more opportunities after another standout season with OCB.
It was a debut campaign to remember for Matthew "MD" Myers.
Myers finished tied in the league’s Golden Boot race this season, registering 19 goals in 28 appearances for NYCFC II. A former collegiate player at High Point University and Rutgers University, Myers signed with NYCFC II last winter and made an immediate impact in the squad.
Alongside John Denis and Jonathan Jimenez, Myers helped form a dangerous attacking trio for NYCFC II, keeping them in the playoff race until the final day of the regular season.
Colorado Rapids 2 had plenty of standout attackers in 2023, but Rémi Cabral took the cake for the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed.
Cabral tied with Lynn and Myers for the MLS NEXT Pro Golden Boot award, scoring 19 goals in only 1,410 minutes of regular season action. The Frenchman made just 20 appearances for Erik Bushey’s men but made quite the impact in his debut season for the club.
Cabral’s hat trick on Decision Day helped him earn a share of the Golden Boot award this fall and capped off a sensational campaign. Now the focus for Cabral will be propelling Rapids 2 into the MLS NEXT Pro Cup later this October.