Crown Legacy FC is set to continue its inaugural season as the number one seed in the Eastern Conference with an eye toward the second-ever MLS NEXT Pro Cup.
Before diving into the playoffs, though, it's essential to wrap up the excellent regular season. 2023 has been nothing short of historic for Crown Legacy, so let’s go back in time and remember some of the best moments.
Inaugural Home Match
Crown Legacy FC kicked off their debut season with great anticipation with the first match at their home venue of Mecklenburg County Sportsplex, where they faced off against Huntsville City FC. The matchup featured two new MLS NEXT Pro sides with unique brand identities as both clubs set out to break the mold and do things differently.
Legacy rallied twice from deficits with the second equalizer from Nick Scardina coming in dramatic fashion in the dying minutes, sending the match to a penalty shootout that Legacy ultimately lost. However, this match set the tone for the rest of Legacy's season, where they became known for their resilience, determination, and overall entertainment factor.
Following the inaugural match, Head Coach Jose Tavares and his squad proved their mettle, quickly rattling off an impressive streak of seven consecutive victories. This extraordinary run catapulted them to the top of the Eastern Conference standings, a position they maintained throughout the season.
The team only lost outright four times over the course of the regular season, regularly rattling off win streaks and never losing a penalty shootout after that first Huntsville match. They secured a playoff spot with six games still to be played and clinched the number one seed in the Eastern Conference with plenty of time to spare. The sole achievement that evaded them was the overall number one seed, but they only lost out to Colorado Rapids 2 of the Western Conference on tiebreakers.
In-Season Awards and Team Culture
In addition to claiming the number one seed in the East, Legacy received recognition throughout the season with both individual and team awards. Forwards Iuri Tavares and Patrick Agyemang earned Player of the Month awards for their outstanding performances in May and July, respectively. The team as a whole earned two Team of the Month awards for their dominant showings in April and June. Head Coach Jose Tavares was also acknowledged as the Midseason Coach of the Year.
Despite consistently ranking among the league's top teams, it's unlikely that a Legacy player will win the regular season MVP award. This reflects the team-first mentality that prioritizes player development and collective success. Quite simply, it shows in the statistics, as the team had 15 different goal scorers and 16 different players contributing assists during the regular season.
The team has cultivated a culture that places a premium on teamwork, commitment to their style of play, and a winning mindset. Their ability to come back in eight different instances to secure draws or victories on the pitch underscores their unity and determination.
While winning is important, player development remains the top priority for Legacy and MLS NEXT Pro as a whole. With an average starting 11 ranging between 19.5 - 20 years old, it's evident that Crown Legacy values youth development. The team features a wealth of young talent, including local Homegrown players, former collegiate athletes, and international signings, all of whom showcased their abilities throughout the season.
Some players impressed enough to earn regular appearances with the first team, including Patrick Agyemang, Brandon Cambridge, and Andrew Privett. Agyemang and Cambridge have delivered iconic, clutch goals for the first team while Privett has become a mainstay on the back line in recent matches. Additionally, players like David Poreba and Nicholas Scardina found their place on the first team bench, alongside goalkeepers Russell Shealy, Isaac Walker, and Chituru Odunze joining as the first team's third keeper when called upon.
Perhaps most importantly, Legacy also serves as a bridge between the Academy and the first team, benefiting the Club at all levels. U-17 talents like Homegrowns Nimfasha Berchimas and Brian Romero consistently played professional minutes, with Berchimas recently scoring his first professional goal, a match-winner versus New England Revolution II, at just 15 years old.
Jack Neeley, the Club’s third Homegrown player, nailed down a consistent starting role at center back throughout the season. Aron John, who earned Academy Player of the Year honors as a newcomer with the U-17s, quickly made his professional debut and has made six appearances.
Overall, players from the Academy played over 3,200 professional minutes for Crown Legacy FC in their inaugural regular season, a quality benchmark they will look to build upon in future years as the Academy continues to develop talent.
Legacy's role as an intermediary between the Academy and the first team is bearing fruit, promising a bright future for the Club from the grassroots up. These developments are certainly something that should excite fans about what the future holds for the relationship between the Academy, Crown Legacy, and the first team.
The 2023 season will introduce an extended playoff format with a total of fourteen clubs progressing to the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs. Qualified teams include the two conference champions and the five teams with the highest points following them in each conference. The playoffs will comprise three rounds before the MLS NEXT Pro Cup final, all unfolding over a span of four consecutive weeks starting on the weekend of September 29.
Crown Legacy FC and Colorado Rapids 2 finished the regular season atop their respective conferences, so they will both receive a first-round bye and automatic advancement to the Conference Semifinals. As the top seed in the Eastern Conference, Crown Legacy will have the ability to choose its opponent from the remaining two lowest-seeded teams and host their Eastern Conference Semifinal match. Should they win, they are also guaranteed to host the Conference Final.
Legacy would also host the final, MLS NEXT Pro Cup, at home should any team other than Colorado Rapids 2 advance from the Western Conference.
So, while the inaugural regular season has been a roaring success for Crown Legacy FC, the job is still unfinished. As the squad heads into the playoffs, they’ll be aiming for a trophy to cap off a memorable inaugural season.
2023 CROWN LEGACY PLAYOFF TICKETS
Be a part of Crown Legacy FC's first MLS NEXT Pro playoffs Sunday, October 8th for the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Tickets are on sale now starting at $15.