MLS NEXT Cup Final Preview with U15 Head Coach Simon Nee


Down in Frisco, Texas, the Red Bulls Academy U15 side have been on an incredible run at the 2023 MLS NEXT Cup tournament. The boys made their way to the final after tearing through some of the top academy sides in the entire nation. Head Coach Simon Nee sat down to talk about the tournament and was effusive in his praise about his finals-bound squad.

Nee started off with an overview about what he has seen from the 15s in the four matches they have played:

“I think it's been a really an outstanding week for us. The first one was a challenging game in the sense that you go in there as strong favorites and the goals came late in that and I think that the strength and depth off the bench really helped. I think that really allows them to grow into the tournament, we start the second and third game with a lot more confidence and belief. That really came together in the Seattle game, that was probably the best performance of the tournament against an outstanding team.”

After defeating Seattle in the Quarterfinals, the team had to prepare themselves for a matchup against one of the top teams in MLS NEXT regular season play, LAFC Academy. After going down 1-0 early, the boys did not hang their heads and stormed back to win 3-1. Nee explained how the team bounced back:

“The game against LAFC. I thought we managed the game really well. Frustrating not to get ahead early in the game, but just really strong belief in the group even a goal down. But, we found a moment and then took a stronghold in the game.”

The team has had nine different goal scorers throughout the tournament, highlighting the depth that they have on their bench. When asked about what that type of depth means, Nee could not have been more positive about his complete roster:

“I think that's been the story of the week - the strength and depth of the group. You know, it's not just the 11 that starts, it's the 20 players that you brought. We brought a young group here with a lot of 09’s, but they've all stepped up in a big way. Everybody has come in and made a positive contribution and I feel like whenever we do make changes off the bench, the group have got stronger. That healthy competition for places is really driven the players.”

While the attacking play has been impressive, the back line and goalkeeping cannot be overshadowed. With three clean sheets and only one goal allowed in four matches, the 15s have made it an incredibly difficult challenge for even the most talented opponents to find the back of the net. Nee made it a point to shout out the defensive play as well:

“When you come to a tournament like this, if you're going to make a run like we have in the event, the key has to be a very difficult to score on. The team have been so defensively resolute, and that starts at the top of the pitch. Getting the press in and then everybody's commitment to not give up big chances or big moments in the game.”

Now the club is on its way to face CF Montréal Academy in the U15 final at Toyota Stadium. With all their hard work leading to this match, Nee reflected on his group and talked about how they are ready for any challenge that presents itself to them:

“Excited because the boys have expressed themselves this week, they've shown their true talents, they've come through and tough moments, and the unity and togetherness and it's not just grown this week, but over the course of season. It is really all like a band of brothers. They played together in the academy for years and younger guys that have come up and the players that are involved in the IDP program. It's a really tightly knit group."

"That's the most exciting thing. When you see a group come together like this, just to continue to see what their true potential really could be. So they've earned the right now to go and make a run at a national title. Very few people can come away and say that they've ever done that. It's a big occasion, inside the stadium so the boys will be excited. I know they will. Just be a case of now, managing big moments in the game and staying true to who we want to be the whole week which I think they've done a really good job of. That all starts with hard work. Their work rate in every phase of the game has been outstanding and they've really bought into the Red Bull way in really hot and tough conditions here. So I'm excited to see that come to life in the stadium and Montreal are a team, we played them over the course this season. I'm sure it'd be, you know, a very challenging game. But we're excited for it.”

Although it is their biggest match of the season, win or lose, the boys will always have this incredible run to look back on and be proud of the performance that was put in.

Kickoff at Toyota Stadium is set for 11:30 a.m. with coverage available on MLS Season Pass with Apple TV.