The second year of MLS NEXT Pro came and went for MNUFC2, and it was yet another season of growth and excitement. After leaving some time to fully digest the 2023 season, it’s time to look back and appreciate what the squad accomplished as they continued to write the story of their young league. From results to performances, this year was filled with notable moments, learning experiences, and tangible steps forward.
By the Numbers
Soccer isn’t played on a spreadsheet, but progress is often measured there. Statistically, the Twos performed similarly to last season, but the circumstances were much different. In 2022, the MLS NEXT Pro season comprised just 24 games, while four more were added with the introduction of six new teams in 2023. MNUFC2 slightly increased their points per game average this year, scored seven more goals, and won more shootouts than in year one.
On top of the team’s statistical improvements, the Twos earned their fair share of league honors this season. In week one, the club earned MLS NEXT Pro Team of the Matchday, along with several individual honors. Cameron Dunbar and Kameron Lacey put in award-worthy performances in weeks two and 15, respectively, while Diogo Pacheco set the scoring pace early on by becoming the first player in the league to hit 10 goal contributions.
By the end of the season, Lacey would finish as the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals. Pacheco led the way in the assists category, serving up five chances for his teammates. Fred Emmings led the team in minutes with 2,160, keeping three clean sheets and making 80 saves throughout the season.
At the beginning of the season, Head Coach Cameron Knowles wanted to make Academy integration a key component of his team, and that desire came to fruition.
“I’d like to see more Academy players get involved with us this year,” he said before the 2023 season. “Carlos [Leatherman] played the bulk of the minutes and carried that load for the Academy last year. If we can get a couple more guys involved in that week-to-week, I think that would be really exciting for the club.”
This season saw a slew of Academy players feature for MNUFC2. In total, 15 different Academy players earned the right to train with the Twos and appear on game-day rosters. They contributed a cumulative total of 1,978 minutes across the season, the equivalent of almost 22 full games. The youngsters added three goals and three assists between them, but their impact on the team was felt beyond the scoresheet as well.
“We got younger; we had more important contributions from younger players this year,” Knowles said. “And I think that was something we set out to do. We involved more Academy players in both training and in games, which again, was something we set out to do.”
Among the top Academy performers were MNUFC2 regulars Carlos Leatherman, Kage Romanshyn, Leo Conneh, and Darius Randall. Check out this article to hear more about what it was like for these players to make the jump to MNUFC2, in their own words.
To the Very End
While the Twos didn’t make it into the playoffs this season, they fought until the bitter end — an ending that turned out to be ratherbitter, indeed. A positive result against Colorado would have been enough to secure a spot, and with the scores level in the 88th minute, it looked like the job was done. However, Rapids 2 were the top team in the league for a reason, and two quickfire goals in the closing moments of the game left MNUFC2 stunned, ending their season in disappointment.
The ending was cruel, but such a moment wouldn’t have been possible without this team’s resilience. In the three games prior to the season finale, MNUFC2 picked up seven out of nine possible points, winning two shootouts and a 3-2 thriller against SKC II. They had to dig deep for each of these results, and even though the season had been long and unforgiving, they summoned the willpower necessary to put themselves in contention on the last day of the year.
For the players who poured their heart and soul into the season, it was a bitter pill to swallow. However, for the club as a whole, the success of the Twos is defined far less by where they finish in the table than it is in the growth of the individual players. Based on the spirit they showed in the latter stages of the season, it seems that these players have grown quite a bit this year.
Top Moments of 2023
Throughout their 28-game season, the Twos put on quite a show. From their first match in Utah to their last in Colorado, these players showcased their skills in some pretty impressive ways. Here’s a few of our favorite moments from the 2023 MNUFC2 season for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!
Fred Emmings or a Brick Wall? You Decide.
When push came to shove, Fred Emmings came up clutch. MNUFC2’s keeper set an MLS NEXT Pro record with four saves in a single shootout, earning his team a valuable extra point against Austin late in the season.
Winning in a Winter Wonderland
The Twos kicked the season off with a bang, putting four past the Real Monarchs on a snow-covered pitch. Standout performers Leo Conneh and Diogo Pacheco impressed on the night, but everyone put in a great shift.
These guys just couldn’t stop scoring to start the year. In their first 13 games of the season, MNUFC2 scored at least once in every game, including this absolute peach of a free-kick from Cameron Dunbar.
Hat’s All, Folks!
Forward Kameron Lacey’s impressive hattrick in early July gave the Loons an emphatic win against a Timbers2 team that had beaten them just weeks earlier.