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MLS delays season start, Garber discusses COVID-19 challenges

The 2021 Major League Soccer (MLS) season will now begin on April 17, two weeks later than initially planned following the ratification of the league’s new collective bargaining agreement.

The CBA negotiations were extended a week beyond the league’s original deadline, which has led to the decision to postpone the start of the season. It is hoped the schedule for the season will be released by early March.

The new CBA will run until the 2027 season and ensures players will be paid in full this season. The agreement was signed after the league in December invoked a force majeure clause amid the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

Speaking yesterday (Wednesday) following the announcement, MLS commissioner Don Garber estimated that the league lost close to $1bn (£723m/€825m) last season as games were held behind closed doors.

“I think the good news here is that we have worked on a new long-term agreement that allows us to recoup some of the losses over time, from the losses that we’re going to incur this year,” Garber said.

“And we are forecasted to lose pretty close to that $1bn, if not $1bn, that we had been talking about. When you don’t have fans for the majority of your season, it’s just pure math.”

On the potential return of fans this year, Garber added that he does not envisage supporters being in stadiums in large numbers “for most if not all” of the season.

The 2020 MLS season was significantly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with teams only playing two games before the league was suspended last March. The league eventually returned in July with a behind-closed-doors competition at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.

Teams were later able to return to stadiums in their home cities to conclude the season. The league’s three Canadian teams – Toronto FC, CF Montréal and Vancouver Whitecaps – were initially only able to play each other in their home country before playing ‘home’ games at US venues due to travel restrictions between the two countries. Garber said an announcement on where Canadian teams will play this season is “really close”.

He added: “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.”

Image: MLS