MLS season to kick off April 3 but still no clarity on what awaits Canadian teams

·4 min read

Major League Soccer has provided the when for its 2021 season. The where for Canadian teams remains unanswered, however.

The regular season will run April 3 through Nov. 7 with the MLS Cup final scheduled for Dec. 11, the league announced Monday. The league had previously said it was targeting a mid-March start to the 2021 campaign.

In 2020, the regular season opened Feb. 29. Matches continued for two weeks before the league halted play due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. It resumed in July with the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando with Columbus Crew SC eventually winning the MLS Cup final — originally slated for Nov. 7 — on Dec. 12 after an on-again, off-again season.

In announcing the 2021 dates, the league said it is continuing to work with CF Montreal, Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps on the issue of travel restrictions between Canada and the U.S. due to the pandemic.

MLS said more details on the Canadian teams will be announced in the "near future."'

Last season, Toronto made its pandemic home away from home in East Hartford, Conn. Montreal played out of Harrison, N.J., while Vancouver was based out of Portland.

Toronto played just four of its 23 regular-season games at BMO Field — and none after Sept. 1. The Whitecaps had four games at B.C. Place Stadium while Montreal had one at Olympic Stadium and three at Stade Saputo.

Toronto president Bill Manning confirmed that his club is looking at options south of the border in the event it can't host U.S. teams at BMO Field.

The 2021 calendar already looks to be a busy one with World Cup and Olympic qualifying set to begin in March for Canada with the Gold Cup to follow in July. Should Canadian internationals on Canadian MLS teams have to relocate south of the border again for league play, it will make for another extended absence from family and friends.

While the pandemic continues to hang over the sports scene, another cloud has emerged over the MLS future — a labour impasse resulting from the league's decision to invoke a "force majeure" clause that obligates the league and the MLS Players Association to negotiate modifications to the existing Collective bargaining agreement in good faith for 30 days.

The MLSPA says it won't be rushed into a decision on proposed changes to the CBA.

"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," the league said in its statement Monday.

Each of the 27 teams — the league is up a club with the addition of expansion Austin FC — will play a 34-match regular-season schedule before the playoffs kick off Nov. 19. The league is planning an all-star game for late summer.

Clubs can open pre-season training on Feb. 22, six weeks ahead of the season's opening weekend. The league says players will have to quarantine and conduct individual training upon reporting back to their clubs.

During the regular season, all players, technical staff and essential club staff will be tested for COVID-19 every other day, including the day before each match day. Clubs will take chartered flights for all road trips.

NOTES: The Seattle Sounders have signed head coach Brian Schmetzer to a multi-year contract extension. The Seattle native has led the Sounders to four MLS Cup appearances and two titles — both in wins over Toronto — since taking over in the summer of 2016, amassing a record of 67-37-34 in the regular season and 15-4-2 in the playoffs ... D.C. United has signed former Montreal and Vancouver midfielder Felipe Martins to a one-year contract extension. The deal contains an option for the 2022 season.


KEY DATES — MLS 2021 SEASON

Feb. 22: Pre-season training begins (6 weeks)

Apr. 3-4: Opening Weekend 2021

Nov. 7: Regular season finale

Nov. 19: MLS Cup playoffs begin

Dec. 11: MLS Cup final

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2021

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press