On Monday afternoon, Major League Soccer released a roadmap of the 2021 season. The press release, which can be found on the MLS website, includes important dates, expansion information and COVID-19 protocols.
Most importantly, the league also acknowledges that discussions with the MLS Players Association are ongoing. At the moment, it is unclear whether the current collective bargaining agreement will be extended. Because no agreement has been reached to date, it is also up in the air whether or not this matter will be sorted out before the season start dates.
The most important thing in the COVID era is that an agreement is reached that allows the players to feel safe and comfortable while doing their jobs. For now, let us assume that such an agreement will be reached. Here is a look ahead at what the season will look like.
Our season kicks off on April 3rd. #MLSisBack
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) January 25, 2021
As a part of their release, MLS has outlined seven key dates for the 2021 season. The most noteworthy of the seven is that the season will open on the first weekend in April. In order to meet that date, preseason training will begin on the last Monday in February.
The 2021 regular season will conclude with MLS Decision Day on Sunday, November seventh. The playoffs will begin on November 19th. Finally, MLS has also provided a date for the 2021 MLS Cup. The winner of the biggest prize in domestic American men’s club soccer will be decided on December 11th.
Besides the schedule, MLS released a number of other details.
New expansion team Austin FC will compete in the league’s Western Conference. The club recently announced that their stadium, which is currently under construction, will be known as Q2 Stadium.
Our home has got a name: @Q2Stadium.
"Establishing a long-term stadium naming rights partnership with an Austin-based company that is committed to using this platform to give back to the community was the Club’s top priority.”
— Austin FC (@AustinFC) January 25, 2021
The league announced that players will undergo COVID tests every other day during the season. Teams will also travel on chartered flights in an attempt to reduce potential exposure.
MLS will announce special plans for the league’s Canadian clubs soon. The league will need to find a solution to international travel restrictions. One potential option would be temporary relocation to the United States for the 2021 season.
Lastly, 2021 will see the returns of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and the Canadian Championship. Due to COVID, the 2020 U.S. Open Cup was cancelled outright. The 2020 Canadian Championship had its format significantly altered, and the final is still yet to be played.
The Columbus Crew, Philadelphia Union, Portland Timbers and Atlanta United will all take part in the 2021 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League. Toronto FC can bring the number of MLS teams in the competition to five if they win the Canadian Championship.
Now that dates for the 2021 season have been confirmed, the focus is entirely on the negotiations between MLS and the MLSPA. Although an agreement has not yet been reached, the league states that the MLSPA submitted their latest reply on January 23rd. At the very least, that means that discussions are ongoing. It may be a difficult process, but it is reassuring to know that the two sides are exchanging ideas.
Additionally, teams that are looking to add a final piece or two now know that they have two months before preseason begins.
Between CBA negotiations and the chaos of free agency, it promises to be an eventful eight weeks.
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– Andrew Fasciano (@afasc573)