MLS NEXT Pro on Tuesday revealed details about its sophomore 2023 season, which kicks off on March 24 and will feature seven new teams as well as an expanded playoff format.
The third-division league's 2023 regular season schedule has been announced for all 27 clubs, including the seven MLS-affiliated newcomers: Atlanta United 2, Austin FC II, Crown Legacy FC (Charlotte FC), Huntsville City FC (Nashville SC), LA Galaxy II, Los Angeles Football Club 2 and New York Red Bulls II.
MLS NEXT Pro officially kicks off its second season when Austin FC II host their first-ever match on Friday, March 24 vs. Houston Dynamo 2 at Parmer Field (9 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).
Opening weekend will also feature the following games across the league (all times Eastern):
- March 24 – Real Monarchs vs. MNUFC2 (10 pm | MLS Season Pass)
- March 26 – Crown Legacy FC vs. Huntsville (3 pm | MLS Season Pass)
- March 26 – Philadelphia Union II vs. Orlando City B (3 pm ET | MLSNEXTPRO.com)
- March 26 – Inter Miami II vs. Chicago Fire II (6 pm | MLSNEXTPRO.com)
- March 26 – St. Louis City2 vs. Tacoma Defiance (6 pm | MLS Season Pass)
- March 26 – New York Red Bulls II vs. Columbus Crew 2 (7 pm | MLS Season Pass)
- March 26 – ATL UTD 2 vs. New England Revolution II (7:30 pm | MLSNEXTPro.com)
- March 26 – Earthquakes II vs. Galaxy II (8 pm | MLS Season Pass)
- March 26 - LAFC2 vs. North Texas SC (8 pm | MLS Season Pass)
- March 26 - Colorado Rapids 2 vs. Sporting KC II (9 pm | MLS Season Pass)
- March 26 - Whitecaps FC 2 vs. Timbers 2 (10 pm | MLSNEXTPro.com)
Each MLS NEXT Pro club will play 28 matches over 27 weeks – an increase from 24 matches per club in 2022 – including 14 matches at home and 14 on the road.
All but one of the 27 clubs will compete in Decision Day 2023 – the final regular-season matchday – on Sunday, September 24. Thirteen matches will take place that day to determine final playoff spots and seeding. Seven teams in each conference (East, West) will qualify for the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs.
New Playoff format
The 2023 season will feature an expanded playoff format that includes a "pick-your-opponent" structure in the first two rounds.
Within each conference, the two division champions and the five clubs with the next highest points (seven clubs total) will advance to the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs. The playoffs will consist of three rounds followed by MLS NEXT Pro Cup, taking place over four consecutive weeks beginning the weekend of September 29.
The club with the most regular season points in each conference (#1 seed) will earn a first-round bye, automatically advancing to the Conference Semifinals.
- The next two teams with the most points in each conference (#2 and #3 seeds) will choose their opponent and host their match (one of two teams must be the other division champion)
- The two remaining teams that are not selected will play each other, with the higher-seeded team hosting
- The team with the most overall points in the conference (#1 seed) will choose its opponent from the remaining two lowest-seeded teams and host the match
- The second-highest seed will host the remaining team
- The team with the most regular season points (higher seed) will host the team with the lowest points (lower seed)
MLS NEXT Pro Cup:
- The team with the most regular season points (higher seed) will host MLS NEXT Pro Cup
With the aim of decreasing preventable match delays, the league has implemented a Timed Substitution Rule, allowing a maximum of 10 seconds for a player to leave the field when he is substituted. If the player does not leave the field of play within 10 seconds, the substitute must wait 60 seconds before entering the field of play, forcing the offending team to play a man down for a minimum of one minute.
Seven teams will make their MLS NEXT Pro debuts during the 2023 season:
- Atlanta United 2
- Austin FC II
- Crown Legacy FC (Charlotte FC)
- Huntsville City FC (Nashville SC)
- LA Galaxy II
- Los Angeles Football Club 2
- New York Red Bulls II
Of particular note is Nashville SC affiliate Huntsville City FC, which is based out of Alabama. This makes Nashville the first MLS club to field its second team in an out-of-state market.
Conference and divisional alignment
With the addition of seven new clubs this season, the Western Conference will consist of 14 clubs, while the Eastern Conference will have 13.
Three of the four divisions will feature seven clubs each, while the Northeast will have six. The Eastern Conference will add Atlanta United 2 and Huntsville City FC to the Central Division, and New York Red Bulls II and Crown Legacy FC to the Northeast Division. In the Western Conference, LA Galaxy II and LAFC2 will both join the Pacific Division while Austin FC II joins the Frontier Division.
Colorado Rapids 2
North Texas SC
Houston Dynamo 2
Sporting KC II
Whitecaps FC 2
St. Louis CITY2
LA Galaxy II
Austin FC II
Los Angeles Football Club 2
New England Revolution II
Chicago Fire FC II
FC Cincinnati 2
Philadelphia Union II
New York Red Bulls II
Inter Miami II
Orlando City B
Crown Legacy FC
Atlanta United 2
Huntsville City FC
With the addition of LAFC2 and LA Galaxy II, MLS NEXT Pro will now have its own version of “El Tráfico” in 2023. Both clubs will face off three times this season: Thursday, June 15 and Saturday, September 9 at Dignity Health Sports Park and Saturday, August 12 at Cal State Fullerton (home of LAFC2).
The arrival of New York Red Bulls II also sets the stage for an MLS NEXT Pro-style Hudson River Derby. Red Bulls II and NYCFC II will meet three times as well: Sunday, May 14 and Sunday, July 9 at Pittser Field and Sunday, June 11 at Belson Stadium.