Everything you need to know about the 2021 MLS season
Back to the pitch we go.
As soccer returns this weekend, here's everything you need to know about the fresh MLS season.
The regular season started on Friday and will run until Nov. 7. The last day of the regular season, known as Decision Day, will determine the playoff picture. The postseason kicks off Nov. 19, when the top seven teams from each conference face off in Audi MLS Cup Playoffs leading to MLS Cup, which is set for Dec. 11.
After two games Friday, including Seattle at Minnesota on FS1, the Opening Weekend action is highlighted by MLS's newest additions: Austin FC takes on Los Angeles FC on Saturday, followed by Inter Miami CF vs. the L.A. Galaxy on Sunday.
Will fans be allowed?
Yes, but exactly how many depends on team and local government guidelines. No team will be permitted to host more than 50% capacity to begin the season.
The league will pause twice during the season for international breaks. The first occurs from June 3 to June 11 during FIFA's international window, and the second is July 9-16 for the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
On Aug. 21, there will be a rematch of last year's MLS Cup finalists, as Columbus Crew SC hosts Seattle Sounders FC. In addition, there will be a crosstown matchup between the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC.
Favorites to win MLS Cup
(Odds via FOX Bet)
Los Angeles FC and the Sounders are tied for the best odds (+450) to win the championship. Columbus and Toronto FC come in with the second-best odds (+500), and the Philadelphia Union follow somewhat closely behind (+650).
This past season, Columbus upset the defending champion Sounders 3-0 to win the Crew's second MLS Cup title at Historic Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.
Philadelphia won the Eastern Conference and its first Supporters' Shield last year, and Sporting Kansas City was No. 1 in the Western Conference at the end of the regular season.
What's the deal with Austin FC?
The expansion franchise Austin FC will play its inaugural season, becoming the 27th MLS club. The team will compete in the Western Conference.
Austin FC was founded in 2018 and will play its matches at the Q2 Stadium. Claudio Reyna is the team's sporting director, and another USMNT star, Josh Wolff, coaches the squad.
The club colors are green and black
Are there any other new stadiums?
In addition to the brand-new Q2, two more franchises will unveil new venues in 2021.
FC Cincinnati will debut West End Stadium when they host Inter Miami on May 16. Columbus Crew SC will begin its season at its longtime home, Crew Stadium, before transitioning to a new location during the summer months.
Do travel restrictions impact the Canadian clubs?
For the season opener Saturday, Montreal will "host" Toronto at Inter Miami's stadium in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. On Sunday, the Whitecaps will begin their season against the rival Portland Timbers at Rio Tinto Stadium in Utah. Toronto will play its home opener against Vancouver on April 24 in Orlando, Florida.
It remains unknown how long the teams will have to play their matches in the U.S.
Which games should we circle on the calendar?
(According to Alexi Lalas)
Atlanta vs. Orlando: 3 p.m. ET Saturday
Orlando City SC will look to keep its unbeaten Opening Day run going. In addition, the Lions are currently on a four-game unbeaten streak (2-0-2) against Atlanta United. Atlanta will try to put a stop to both steaks.
Inter Miami vs. L.A. Galaxy: 3 p.m. ET Sunday
Inter Miami co-owner and president of soccer operations David Beckham is plenty familiar with the Galaxy as a former member of the team. In addition, this will mark the first matchup between the two clubs.
L.A. Galaxy vs. LAFC: 8 p.m. ET May 8
El Trafico is one of the most entertaining rivalries in MLS. Expect there to be fireworks with Mexico's Carlos Vela (LAFC) and Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez (Galaxy) facing each other. Also, the Galaxy have a new head coach in Greg Vanney leading the way, and as a former player for the squad, he fully understands the weight of this matchup.
Portland vs. Seattle: 3 p.m. ET May 9
This rivalry challenges El Trafico for the league's best. Recently, Seattle has dominated, representing the Western Conference in four of the past five MLS Cups and winning two of them.
Austin vs. Columbus: 8 p.m. ET June 27
Columbus fans will be waiting for this matchup, as they already aren't on good terms with Austin FC. After a year of uncertainty about whether the Crew would be relocated from Columbus to Austin, Columbus found new ownership and stayed put. But for sports fans, the past is never far away.
Columbus vs. Cincinnati: 7:30 p.m. ET July 7
The "Battle for Ohio" will take place at a brand-new, soccer-specific stadium in Cincinnati as the home club will look to defeat the defending champion Crew. The newest additions to Cincy in the offseason – Brenner Souza da Silva and Luciano Acosta – could make for a tough out in 2021.
MLS vs. Liga MX (All-Star Game): TBD
This year's game will feature MLS All-Stars challenging a team of all-star players from Liga MX at Banc of California Stadium. It could be foreshadowing a potential merger to produce what has been viewed by some as "the best league in the world."
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