The goal for NYCFC II this weekend is simple – win.
The final game of the MLS NEXT Pro 2023 Regular season will see the Boys in Blue take on Inter Miami II at DRV PNK Stadium on Sunday. With the table delicately poised, NYCFC II currently sits a point behind Philadelphia Union II in the final playoff place and three points behind Chicago Fire II, meaning although they can advance with a tie, a victory will give them the best chance of success.
Should they be successful it would represent the first time that Head Coach Matt Pilkington and his players have reached the MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs, and despite that being on the line, they aren’t intimidated.
“The aim is to have meaningful games and to have something on the line,” Pilkington said of the pressure surrounding Sunday’s clash. “It separates the top players and gives players valuable experience in pressure situations. I think it's a big part of our processes to put players in these situations and see who can stand out, who can do well under pressure, and who maybe needs more time. Nonetheless, it’s a great experience for all the players.”
Miami are themselves already out of contention for the playoffs, meaning they will be playing for pride when the two sides meet at DRV PNK Stadium. While on paper that may seem an easier proposition for Pilkington and his players, it can in fact be the opposite.
“It doesn’t change things because teams playing for pride are maybe playing without pressure and playing with a bit more freedom,” he explained.
“They’ve got nothing to lose in essence, so they'll have a bit more freedom to express themselves and I think that as a result is not always the best scenario to be in. We need to be up for the challenge and we need to stay focused on the task at hand.
“Every game is an important game for the players. So I expect Miami to be fully prepared, to set themselves up to win the game and I don't think we have an advantage in that regard.”
Regardless of the outcome on Sunday, Pilkington can already see countless positives during the 2023 season, with several players aiding their development via minutes in MLS NEXT Pro.
“We’ve got a lot of minutes from all young players throughout the year in various positions,” he explained. “There’s been some really good performances and some really good results. Overall, I think we’ve, a variety of players within the team.”
One of the team’s undoubted success stories of this season has been Matt Myers. The forward joined NYCFC II at the start of 2023 after a brilliant season with Rutgers University and is currently tied in the Golden Boot race in MLS NEXT Pro with 18 goals.
“It took a little bit of time for him to get going but it's a testament to him as a person,” Pilkington said of Myer's success this season. “He's probably one of the most, if not the most, hardest working, focused professionals [I’ve met]. He's probably the first one in the building and the last one off the training pitch most days.
“He’s played and a lot minutes, but he's got his level of intensity and quality and he's actually, improved over the course of the season. It's a testament to his character and his work rate and desire to learn. He’s been a real privilege to work with this year.”
Myers will be aiming to add to his tally on Sunday as he seeks to fire his team up the table. Until then, the group will continue their preparation in earnest, knowing that Sunday could be a history-making moment for NYCFC II in MLS NEXT Pro.
“As a whole group is in a good place positive some guys returned from international duty and you have a full week to prepare,” Pilkington said. “So all is good.”
Here are the three possibilities that see NYCFC II clinch a spot in the postseason.
- If NYCFC II wins and Philadelphia Union II loses or ties with Red Bulls II.
- If NYCFC II ties and Philadelphia Union II loses to Red Bulls II.
- If NYCFC II wins and Chicago Fire II loses to Huntsville City FC.
You can watch NYCFC II take on Inter Miami II live on Apple TV this Sunday or follow @NYCFCII for official updates.