New York City II kick off the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro season this weekend with a trip to New England Revolution.
Matt Pilkington’s Boys in Blue are finally back in action, following a lengthy off-season, and are raring to go, eager to build on an encouraging debut campaign. The City Boys finished fifth in the Eastern Conference standings, narrowly missing out on a playoff place, and produced a solid overall display, utilizing every experience in their growth.
There was plenty of cause for celebration with several members of the squad invited to train with the first-team, while some would also go on to make their senior bows. That trend has already continued into 2023, as six NYCFC II and Academy players were named in the Club’s first-team preseason roster, given the opportunity to learn from the vast experience across Nick Cushing’s squad.
With player development the priority in youth soccer, Head Coach Pilkington says his squad are fired up and ready to continue their journeys, champing at the bit to step back out onto the pitch and showcase their talents.
“We’re very excited to get the season started,” he said. “It’s been a long preseason – a lot longer than last year – but it’s been a pretty good preseason.
“We’ve been able to do a lot more on and off the field, and there’s been a lot more integration with the first-team, which has really helped with the process, allowing us to work with the group, making sure everyone’s aligned with our philosophy and identity.
“A lot of players are returning from last season, so we have those players that are in a good place. We’ve added a couple of strong characters to the group, some good players, and we’ve also promoted more youth from the Academy set-up.
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“As a result, we have a really cohesive group, and there’s still a lot of movement back and forth from the first-team, which is really beneficial to their process. We’re in a good place.
“The biggest value we can create is to progress players to the next level, whether they're coming through the Academy, or coming from outside of the Club.
“Ultimately, we're looking to get players to the next level, and having players getting into the first-team, called into the first-team, training with the first-team, and handling the level, and also continuing to progress through the system is ultimately our goal.
“We have some really top prospects coming through, and we hope to enhance their development so that they can prepare for the first-team, and also make an impact when they do get the chance.”
City head to New England having claimed victory two of the three MLS NEXT Pro meetings last season – a penalty shoot-out win, and an impressive 4-0 triumph at Gillette Stadium, which proved a memorable night for four-goal hero Johnny Denis.
With sights set on a playoff place this term, the Boys in Blue will look to start the new campaign brightly with a positive result on the road.
“We know New England quite well,” Pilkington added. “They’re quite a local rival for us, so we expect them to be very well-organized, very well structured. They have a clear identity. Clint [Peay], who coaches the group, has a good philosophy, and last year’s games were very competitive.
“It was a good match-up for us because they’re quite aggressive in how they play – they press, they look to build – so tactically, it was a good challenge for us, and I expect the same this season.
“We want to challenge the players, we want them to experience playoffs, and play to win in pressure situations. We’re not going to change our philosophy in developing players, but we want to mirror that with being successful.
“[Last season] it was unfortunate. We had a little bit of a loss of form mid-season, and it cost us in the playoff run, which is a part of the process.
“Top players need experience, they need to get into playoff situations, and feel what the pressure is like. That’s part of the process.
“We are not purely guided by playoffs – it’s something we feel we’ll achieve if the process is correct, and our development is the way we want it to be, and is aligned with our vision.”
NYCFC II open their MLS NEXT Pro season on the road against the New England Revolution II on Sunday, April 2 at 8pm ET at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, M.A. Follow @NYCFCII on Twitter for updates.