Despite the challenges of a global pandemic and a months-long suspension of play, the 2020 Major League Soccer season is on the precipice of an eagerly-anticipated finale with Saturday's MLS Cup between Columbus Crew SC and Seattle Sounders FC at MAPFRE Stadium (7:30 p.m. CT | TV & streaming info)
It has been quite the season, including the unique MLS is Back Tournament in July that followed the league's suspension of play due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now with a truncated regular season subsequently completed in home markets and the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs almost at an end, attention is swiftly turning to the league's 26th season.
While there is good news regarding progress on vaccines, much remains unknown for the globe and MLS going into the new year. Despite that uncertainty, MLS Commissioner Don Garber confirmed in his State of the League address on Tuesday that the league was focused on a March start to the 2021 season.
"Although we have one game left to play, the preparations for the 2021 MLS season are ongoing," Garber told media during his virtual address. "While some uncertainty remains as the pandemic continues, we are reviewing different models and timeframes for the start of the season. As of today, we continue to target early-to-mid March to open the season."
There are multiple reasons for setting that target date, Garber explained, including the fact that international soccer will have a congested calendar to make up for lost time in 2020.
"Nobody has that magic date, and it will vary state by state and province by province," Garber said of having full capacity in stadiums again. "So we need to make a schedule. ... We obviously have a lot of work to do. What we can say today, we’re evaluating as we speak. We’re going to need some flexibility, but we won’t be able to wait to make a decision until someone decides fans will be able to attend stadiums. That’s a date that is so uncertain at this point.”
Another hurdle is the league's three Canadian clubs. Toronto FC, the Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps had to play their "home" games in the United States for phase two of the league's return to play due to border restrictions between the countries.
Garber “is very concerned” about where the Canadian teams will play in 2021 but is hopeful for a positive resolution.
“We don’t have any news on what’s going to happen with the Canadian MLS teams," Garber said. "We’re certainly hopeful that we’re going to be able to play in our home markets, but it’s too early to make a guess on that.”
Despite all the challenges of this unique time, Garber remains optimistic about the future of the league as its 25th season, one like no other, comes to a close.
“I try not to look back, you have to be focused on the future and the future for MLS is very bright. We’re going to be here bigger, better and stronger in the years to come.”