TORONTO, Canada—Mark your calendars, but make sure to put an asterisk.
Major League Soccer announced on Monday that 2021 MLS season will begin on Saturday, Apr. 3 and feature 34 matches for each of the league’s 27 clubs, including Toronto FC. The season will conclude on Nov. 7, with the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs beginning Nov. 19 and concluding with the MLS Cup on Sat., Dec. 11.
With Austin FC joining MLS, the 2021 season will feature 27 clubs, 14 in the Eastern Conference and 13 in the Western Conference.
Western Conference: Austin FC, Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, Sporting Kansas City, LA Galaxy, Los Angeles Football Club, Minnesota United FC, Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders FC, Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
Eastern Conference: Atlanta United, Chicago Fire FC, FC Cincinnati, Columbus Crew SC, D.C. United, Inter Miami CF, CF Montréal, Nashville SC, New England Revolution, New York City FC, New York Red Bulls, Orlando City SC, Philadelphia Union, Toronto FC.
With cross-border travel restrictions still in tact, the status of Canadian teams in regards to where they will play is still up in the air.
“Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, Major League Soccer continues to work with the league’s three Canadian clubs regarding plans for the 2021 regular season. More details on plans for the Canadian teams will be announced in the near future,” the league wrote in a press release.
Last season, after the MLS is Back Tournament, the Reds took part in six all-Canadian matches North of the border, but were then forced to set up shop in East Hartford, Connecticut at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field. Leaving the door open, Bill Manning told reporters recently that the team is still weighing all of its options in regards to where they’ll play next season, but do (obviously) hope to play at BMO Field in 2021.
KEY DATES – MLS 2021 SEASON*
Feb. 22 MLS Preseason training begins (6 weeks)
Apr. 3-4 MLS is Back - Opening Weekend 2021
Late Aug. MLS Heineken® Rivalry Week
Late summer MLS All-Star Game, Leagues Cup, Campeones Cup
Nov. 7 MLS Decision Day
Nov. 19 Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs begin
Dec. 11 2021 MLS Cup
*Here’s where the asterisk comes into play: MLS just released the outline of its schedule for the 2021 season before the league reached an agreement with its Players Association (MLSPA) on a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
And the latest public interaction between the two sides ... didn’t go too smoothly.
MLS and its players have yet to come to terms on a new deal after the league activated its Force Majeure clause, terminating the CBA agreed upon in June that was set to run through 2025. The league did leave fans with a bit of hope, stating that MLSPA did respond to the league’s original proposal two days after their tweet (see above).
“MLS continues to meet with the Major League Soccer Players Association and players to discuss working together to put MLS on a secure footing given the unprecedented impact of COVID-19,” said the league in a press release. “On January 5 MLS presented the MLSPA with a proposal that committed to paying the players 100% of their salaries this year, in return for a two-year extension of the MLS Collective Bargaining Agreement. The MLSPA provided a response to the league’s proposal January 23.
“Although no agreement has been reached, MLS is committed to meet as many times as necessary with the MLSPA in the coming days to finalize an agreement.”
I’d expect a conclusion to this saga by the end of the month. Multiple reports have stated that the league will have the ability to lock out its players if an agreement isn’t reached by Jan. 29. It likely (hopefully) won’t go down that road—even if that deadline in four days does come and go—but if commissioner Don Garber does decide to pull the plug and implement a lockout, then word has it that MLS players will be free to sign with any other club. Hello six-month loan deals?
The Canadian Press’ Neil Davidson also reported that the Canadian men’s national team may host another camp for North American-based players ahead of World Cup qualifying in March if the start of the MLS season is delayed.
With all of that being said, at the very least, Monday’s schedule drop is a step in the right direction from the league as fans and clubs finally have something tangible to look forward to, even if it does come with a bit of an asterisk.