NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MLS NEXT Pro announced its 2023 regular season schedule, with matches beginning Friday, March 24.
The League’s second season will feature 27 clubs, including seven new MLS affiliates. Joining MLS NEXT Pro in 2023 will be 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.
The majority of regular season matches, plus all Decision Day matches, playoffs matches and MLS NEXT Pro Cup, will be available to watch live and on-demand on MLS Season Pass on the Apple TV app. The remainder of regular season matches will stream live on mlsnextpro.com. MLS Season Pass is the subscription service from Apple and Major League Soccer that is home to all MLS and Leagues Cup matches and hundreds of MLS NEXT Pro and MLS NEXT matches.
The complete 2023 schedule is available here and consists of 378 regular season matches. Each 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.
Highlights of the upcoming 2023 season include:
MLS NEXT Pro kicks off its second season when Austin FC II hosts its first-ever match on Friday, March 24 vs. Houston Dynamo 2 at Parmer Field. Real Monarchs will host MNUFC2 at Zions Bank Stadium in Friday’s other action.
The majority of the Opening Weekend competition will take place on Sunday, March 26. The day’s 10 matches will be headlined by Crown Legacy FC hosting Huntsville City FC at Mecklenburg County Sportsplex in a matchup between two of the League’s new members. Sunday will also feature a rematch of the 2022 Western Conference Finals when St Louis CITY2 hosts Tacoma Defiance in the first-ever MLS NEXT Pro regular season match at CITYPARK. The final meeting of Matchday 1 will be on Monday, March 27 when FC Cincinnati 2 welcomes Toronto FC II to Scudamore Field.
Nine of the 13 matches during Opening Weekend will be available to watch live and on-demand on MLS Season Pass. The remaining four will stream live on mlsnextpro.com. The detailed broadcast schedule for Opening Weekend is available on mlsnextpro.com.
Columbus Crew 2, winners of the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro Cup in 2022, will begin its title defense on the road, traveling to New York to face Red Bulls II at Pittser Field on Sunday, March 26 and Chicago to meet Fire II at SeatGeek Stadium on Sunday, April 9. The Champions, led by reigning MLS NEXT Pro Coach of the Year, Laurent Courtois, will return home to Historic Crew Stadium to host New England Revolution II on Sunday, April 16.
MLS NEXT Pro will experience its own version of “El Tráfico” beginning in 2023, with new League members LAFC2 and LA Galaxy II facing off three times this season. The two rivals will meet on Thursday, June 15 and Saturday, September 9 at Dignity Health Sports Park and Saturday, August 12 at Cal State Fullerton (home of LAFC2).
With New York Red Bulls II joining MLS NEXT Pro this season, the League will also see its own “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.
Nashville SC’s affiliate, Huntsville City FC, joins MLS NEXT Pro in 2023, as Nashville becomes the first MLS club to field its second team in an out-of-state market. Huntsville City FC will play its first seven matches on the road while renovations are completed at their home pitch, Joe Davis Stadium. The club will play its first home match on Friday, May 19 vs. Crown Legacy FC.
DECISION DAY 2023
All but one of the 27 clubs in the League will compete on the final day of the regular season, Sunday, September 24. Thirteen matches will take place to determine final playoff spots and seeding, with seven teams in each conference qualifying for the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs. Eastern Conference matches will kick off at 2:00 p.m. ET, followed by the Western Conference at 5:00 p.m. ET. All Decision Day matches will be available live and on-demand on MLS Season Pass on the Apple TV app.
NEW PLAYOFFS FORMAT
The 2023 season will feature an expanded playoffs format that includes a pick-your-opponent element 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
There will be no ties in MLS NEXT Pro once again in 2023. Shootouts using kicks from the penalty mark will return this season to decide a match that is tied after regulation. Both teams will receive one point each for the tie, with the winner of the shootout receiving one additional point (two points total). In 2022, 20% of matches resulted in a shootout.
Implemented midway through last season, both the Off-field Treatment Rule and Red Card Suspension Rule will also return in 2023.
Under the Off-field Treatment Rule: If a player is suspected to have an injury and is on the ground for longer than 15 seconds, medical personnel will come onto the field to evaluate the player and assist him off. Once the player is off the field, the player will be treated by the medical staff and will be required to remain off the field for three minutes.
Under the Red Card Suspension Rule: if a player receives a red card, he will serve the resulting one-game suspension against that same opponent.
To further decrease preventable match delays and increase effective match time, this season will see the addition of a new Timed Substitution Rule, which will allow 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 the 10 seconds, the replacement player will only be able to enter after a 60 second holding period, resulting in the offending team playing a man down for a minimum of one minute.
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.