MLS 2021 campaign to start on April 17th


MLS 2021 season start delayed Image: MLS

An updated start date has been announced by Major League Soccer (MLS) (US) for the 2021 regular campaign. The season is all set to get underway on April 17th.

The MLS Commissioner, Don Garber, stated in a virtual press conference on February 10th, “We’re now going to begin our regular season on April 17th. As you know, the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiations were extended by a week beyond our original deadline. So, as a result, we have moved back the season two weeks to allow our players and our clubs the time to prepare. We’ll announce the date of the opening of training camps really soon then the regular season schedule soon in the coming weeks, hopefully by early March.”

The update which was made on February 10th follows the announcement that MLS and the MLS Players Association have ratified a new Collective Bargaining Agreement through 2027.

Major League Soccer is a men’s professional soccer league sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation, which represents the sport’s highest level in the United States and Canada. The league comprises 27 teams – 24 in the US and 3 in Canada – and will expand to 30 teams by the 2023 season.

The MLS Players Association, also referred to as the MLSPA, is the union of professional Major League Soccer players. The MLS Players Association serves as the exclusive collective bargaining agreements representative for all current players in MLS.

MLS will announce the 2021 MLS regular season schedule in the coming weeks.

Earlier, it was announced that the 2021 season will begin on April 3rd and all clubs will play 34 matches. The 26th season will feature 27 teams with Austin FC (professional soccer franchise) beginning play as an expansion franchise. The MLS Cup Playoffs will begin on November 19th, 2021, with MLS Cup 2021 set for December 11th, 2021.

Apart from Austin FC’s 20,500-capacity Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas, two new MLS stadiums will make their debuts with FC Cincinnati and reigning champions Columbus Crew moving into new digs.

FC Cincinnati is an American professional soccer club based in Cincinnati, Ohio (US). The club plays in the Eastern Conference of Major League Soccer. The team succeeded the lower-division team of the same name and was announced on May 29, 2018, when MLS awarded an expansion franchise to Cincinnati.

The 26,000-capacity West End Stadium is a soccer-specific stadium that is under construction in Cincinnati, Ohio. It will soon be the home of FC Cincinnati, a MLS team that is temporarily playing at Nippert Stadium in Ohio.

Columbus Crew Soccer Club is an American professional soccer club based in Columbus, Ohio (US). The Crew competes in Major League Soccer as a member of the league’s Eastern Conference and began play in 1996 as one of the 10 charter clubs of the league.

The new residence of the ‘Crew’ which is under construction is called the New Columbus Crew Stadium which will be able fit in 20,000 spectators. Once the new facility is complete, the present home venue of the ‘Crew’ – Mapfre Stadium – will be redeveloped as the club’s training center, as well as a community sports park. The new arena is expected to be completed in July 2021. sources stated that it will continue with its stringent COVID-19 testing procedures as the United States is still not out from the fatal jaws of the deadly disease.

A statement on the MLS website read, “Similar to the 2020 MLS season, COVID-19 testing protocols will again play an important role in MLS’ competition framework. MLS continues to work closely with the league and MLSPA’s infectious disease advisors on health and safety protocols, including testing. During the regular season, all players, technical staff and essential club staff will continue to be tested every other day, including the day before each match day. In addition, clubs will take chartered flights for all road trips until further notice.” sources further informed that MLS had originally targeted a mid-March start date, but a source with know of the situation said that when it was clear the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Champions League would also start in April, that gave MLS additional flexibility to delay the start of the regular season by two weeks. In keeping with MLS health and safety protocols, players will be required to quarantine and conduct individual trainings upon reporting back to their clubs.

The CONCACAF Champions League is an annual continental club football competition organized by CONCACAF. The winner of the CONCACAF Champions League automatically qualifies for the quarter-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup™.

Preseason training camps were set to begin on February 22nd, giving teams six weeks to prepare for the start of the campaign, but Garber said the new date for opening camps is yet to be determined.

The delayed season start will also facilitate people across the United States to be vaccinated against coronavirus, which will hopefully hasten the timeline for when fans can return to MLS venues by the horde.

With Austin FC’s arrival, the 2021 season will feature 14 clubs in the Eastern Conference and 13 in the Western Conference.

Canada clubs

With MLS boasting teams on both sides of the United States’ northern border, navigating travel across country lines during a pandemic has proved tricky.

Last season, the three Canadian clubs (Toronto FC, CF Montréal and Vancouver Whitecaps) began play at home markets while just facing each other. Phase two saw the clubs spend their “home” games at different venues in the United States, leaving the players and staff away from home and their families for weeks at a time.

With mandatory quarantine and other health protocols in place, the three clubs could be on the road at the start of the season.

Added Garber, “What is going on in Canada is very challenging. We continue to work with our teams to engage with Canadian authorities. All three of our teams are working on alternative plans as to where they’re going to be in the short term. I feel for our Canadian clubs and I feel for our players.”

He continued, “We’re really close to being able to announce where our Canadian clubs will play.” Garber threw enough hints that Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps, and CF Montréal will likely have to reside in the United States, at least to start the year.

It has been reported that the Vancouver Whitecaps would start the 2021 MLS season out of Real Salt Lake in Utah.

Toronto FC, meanwhile, are yet to decide where they will begin the next season after finishing off their campaign last year in East Hartford, Connecticut.

Charter flights

Garber confirmed in the virtual presser that the league will continue to have teams charter all flights when traveling – “As long as we’re managing the pandemic, we expect to travel our teams and players via charter flights.”

An increase in charter flights had previously been agreed as part of the CBA negotiations and Garber said that even after the pandemic that trajectory would continue.

Garber concluded by stating, “It’s important for the players and important for our evolution, the new CBA continues the progression of charter flights that we had agreed to in the past. I can’t tell you when it’s going to go back to the progression we had, I’m hoping we get through the pandemic quickly. Until we do though, we’ll incur the expense of chartering our teams around.”

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