Real Monarchs v MNUFC2
Zions Bank Stadium | Herriman City, Utah
03.24.2023 | MLS NEXT Pro Game No. 1
9:00 p.m. CT | Streaming on AppleTV’s MLS Season Pass
MLS NEXT Pro is officially back this week! MNUFC2 will kick off their second season with a trip to Utah for a match against the Real Monarchs. With one year of experience under their belts and plenty of new faces joining the squad, the Loons will be hoping to come out of the gates fast to show their intent to make noise this year.
In the buildup to the new season, several returning MNUFC2 players have trained with the first team, including midfielder Diogo Pacheco. Experience at this higher level may prove to be invaluable to the squad early on, as MLS NEXT Pro will be a much different league this year.
“We know every team is going to be stronger this year, but we will be stronger this year as well,” Pacheco said. “I think we need to focus on us, the way we play. Like [Cameron Knowles] talks about, if we don’t get beat by desire, that is the most important thing. If we go out there and play how we play and we work hard, we won’t get beat by desire; I think that’s all that matters. I think we’re ready for it.”
Though the league has grown to 27 teams this year, the Monarchs are among the founding members of MLS NEXT Pro. Last season, the Loons earned their first-ever win on their trip to Utah, as well as a shootout victory in the reverse fixture. While there is history between these two teams, MNUFC2 Head Coach Cameron Knowles knows better than to expect more of the same.
“You look at how much our team’s changed from that time last year, I’m sure it's the same there,” he said. “This time of year it’s difficult to get a lot of insight into how teams are going to play and what the team is going to look like. It usually takes a couple weeks for that to settle down. We don’t have streamed or televised preseason matches, and it’s different for each club with what they have available and what you can see of them from preseason. One thing we know is that it’s a difficult place to play, they’re always a good team, and playing there at altitude is no easy feat. We’ll prepare the guys as best as we can, and with the group we have, I’m confident that we’ll have another good performance.”
Since last season, MNUFC2 has made five new signings to fill in the gaps left by the departure of several players. Eight players have returned for year two, giving the Loons a total of 13 available second team players. Though the roster has taken shape over the last few months, this week’s match will test the club’s depth right away.
Between MNUFC and MNUFC2, eight Loons have been called up to their national teams this weekend. This includes midfielder Molik Jesse Khan, who will be in the Trinidad and Tobago squad for their upcoming Concacaf Nations League matches against Nicaragua and the Bahamas.
To fill in the gaps on the first team, we may see a few MNUFC2 players stepping up for the match against Vancouver. The ensuing ripple effect could cause multiple Academy players to join the flight to Utah, including MNUFC2 regular Carlos Leatherman. Despite the heavy squad rotation, Coach Knowles and his team are ready to get on the pitch.
“There’s a lot of excitement, a lot of that initial unknown,” he said. “Teams have changed and the league’s gotten better in the last year, we’re just waiting to see what that looks like and see what our team looks like. We’ve changed a lot, brought some new faces in, new Academy faces in with our group. It’s been a long time coming, some of our guys started preseason in the first week of January, so I know everyone’s itching to get this game under their belt.”
Regardless of the players that line up on the field, the first 90 minutes of MNUFC2’s MLS NEXT Pro season will be played on Friday night. This is no longer uncharted territory; instead, this season offers a fresh start in familiar waters. Tune in to MLS Season Pass on the Apple TV app to watch the MNUFC2 season opener.