Philadelphia Union

2024 MLS NEXT Cup Playoffs: Which teams could lift a trophy? | MLSSoccer.com


The 2024 MLS NEXT Cup Playoffs begin this weekend in Nashville, concluding with championship matches on June 23 at GEODIS Park.

Players are eyeing a trophy as the MLS NEXT season concludes with a 32-team knockout tournament spanning four different age groups (U-15, U-16, U-17, U-19). Teams qualified based on results from league play or by winning their respective group at MLS NEXT Flex.

Here’s a look at some of the top contenders from each age group.

Winners of the Premier Bracket at this year’s Generation adidas Cup, the Fire finished with a 25-4 overall record. US youth national team midfielder Robert Turdean is one of the team’s key players, competing up an age group. There is quality up and down the spine, and the team has shown the ability to survive and advance in a high-pressure knockout tournament already.

The Florida side is another team that won their division in the regular season and all three matches at MLS NEXT Flex, each in very difficult divisions. Tied for the second-most wins (22) by an MLS academy in the age group, a tough match awaits in the Round of 32 against Real Salt Lake. Jakob Garcia scored 18 goals in 21 games, leading the team’s attack.

The SoCal club had the best goal differential per match (3.46) among all teams in the age group and only lost three regular-season games all year. TFA led the age group with 26 wins, including a victory against LA Galaxy. Alexis Mondragon finished second in the age group with 42 goals and featured in the MLS NEXT Fest 'Best Of' match.

  • Toronto FC have ample quality and will look to build off a strong showing at the Generation adidas Cup, knocking out the likes of Arsenal in a penalty shootout.
  • NEFC are right up there with Total Futbol Academy in terms of favorites to win the competition from the Elite Academies.
  • Chicagoland outfit FC United will fancy their chance if they advance past the Philadelphia Union.

The South Florida outfit outscored opponents 64-14 and lost only two games all year. The team enters on good form, winning the recent inaugural Inter Miami CF Youth International Cup. Cadriano Marsh has fluctuated between the U-16 and U-17 levels, but his good form helped him earn a call-up to the Jamaican youth national team. Miami kick things off against FC Bay Area.

Another top team in the age group, Sacramento topped their regular season division with a 17-1-2 record and won their group at MLS NEXT Flex. The group has a balanced attack led by Sean Baitinger (16 goals) and Austin Thum (15 goals). Sacramento will face Met Oval in the Round of 32.

Another standout side from Southern California, Strikers are no stranger to making deep runs at MLS NEXT Cup. Strikers FC’s U-16 team has made the finals in the last two seasons and qualified again for the MLS NEXT Cup Playoffs this season. Of the top-five goalscorers in the age group, Strikers had two: Justin Ojo (33 goals, most) and Santiago Higareda (27 goals, tied fourth most).

  • Featuring quality from back to front, Southeast PA-based squad FC Delco will look to go on a run despite a tricky matchup against FC Dallas in the first round.
  • Round of 32 opponents Beachside SC and FC United have the talent to go far, so whichever emerges from that will fancy their chances.
  • Two teams on the opposite side of the bracket are worth tracking. Baltimore Armour upset the Philadelphia Union on penalties last year in the U-15 age group and bring back several players from that roster. Real Colorado had another strong season and reached last year’s quarterfinals.

One of the most dominant regular-season teams no matter the age group, BW Gottschee was 22-0-2 entering MLS NEXT Flex before losing to Strikers FC. They also had success against MLS academies, producing a 2-0-1 record during the 2023-24 season. Diego Colon is the leading scorer for the club (20 goals) and spearheads the team in the final third. A Round of 32 matchup awaits against the Seattle Sounders on Sunday (6:15 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).

The LAFC U-17s were arguably the favorites heading into last season’s MLS NEXT Cup before a surprising loss to St. Louis CITY SC in the Round of 16. Many of those players return in 2024 for a team that had a 26-6-2 record during the year. The squad is littered with US youth national players, most notably left back Pedro Guimaraes and forward Charlie Rosenthal. They’ll kick off the tournament with a matchup against Global Football International Academy.

Back-to-back Generation adidas Cup winners, the Union seek a second major trophy in 2024 at this age group. Top players expected to compete include Diego Rocio (2024 Generation adidas Cup MVP), US youth international forward Anisse Saidi, winger/midfielder Jamir Johnson and center back Andrew Craig. Philadelphia open against Orlando City SC in a battle of two of the MLS favorites.

  • Several players on a very talented Portland Timbers squad are holdovers from the Under-15 team that won the 2022 Generation adidas Cup. That experience will be huge heading to Tennessee.
  • South Florida’s depth of talent is easy to see when a team like Weston FC. Battle-tested against Inter Miami, they have the potential to go on a run.
  • While both face a tough quadrant of the group, PDA and Michigan Wolves are two sleepers to make semifinal runs.

One of two U-19 teams to suffer only one loss all season, FC Dallas have won 13 of the last 14 matches heading into MLS NEXT Cup. The side made the semifinals last season before falling to eventual champions New England Revolution. The standout forward during the season was Jared Salazar, who scored 17 times in 2023-24 and has seen action in MLS NEXT Pro with North Texas SC. Salazar is committed to play at the University of Portland in the fall.

The Revolution made history as the only team to win consecutive MLS NEXT Cups in the same age group last season and now they look to make it a three-peat. Despite an inconsistent regular season, New England turned it on at MLS NEXT Flex with three victories, conceding just one goal. The U-19s have been led by two dynamic wingers: Gabriel Chavez and Enzo Goncalves. Jamie Kabuusu is the engine in the midfield; he earned his first senior national team call-up with Grenada for their 2026 World Cup qualifying matches in June. Kabuusu is committed to Duke University. A tough Round of 32 test awaits versus Shattuck St. Mary’s.

A recognized powerhouse from the Chicago region, Sockers FC outscored opponents 88-11 during the season and recorded the second-best points per match in the age group (2.58) while producing a positive 2-1-0 record against MLS sides. Dean Boltz was named the U-19 MVP presented by adidas for the 2023-24 regular season after finishing tied for second with 24 goals. Boltz will attend the University of Wisconsin in the fall. Sockers FC open their U-19 playoffs run against Ballistic United.

  • Even with two players departing to sign with North Texas SC over the past year (Isaiah Kaakoush and Leo Orejarena), Barca Academy have a robust XI that can beat any team in the age group.
  • Northeast Division side Intercontinental FA have the firepower and a roster of future college standouts that will look to sign off from club soccer with a trophy.

@travismclark

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