2021 Soccer Almanac: Key dates and major tournaments in busy year ahead

A new year has finally arrived and North American soccer, like civilization as a whole, will look to turn the page on a challenging 2020.

Unfortunately for those eager to plan out a 2021 calendar that's closer to pre-coronavirus norms, many aspects of the coming year’s events remain up in the air as various entities wait to see what the pandemic will allow. Here are some key dates and timeframes we do have thus far.

Winter 2021

Mid-January: US men’s national team January camp – Dates and location TBA
With the compressed and intense World Cup 2022 qualifying cycle kicking off later in the year, USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter will gather a mostly-domestic squad for the program’s traditional winter workouts, to be capped by a friendly match (or two). Though no details have been officially confirmed, reports suggest Orlando will be the locale, and that Serbia will visit for a Jan. 31 friendly.

Jan. 9-24Canada men’s national team January camp – Bradenton, Fla.
Les Rouges face a particularly long and winding road to Qatar thanks to their location outside Concacaf’s top echelon of the FIFA World Rankings, a journey that could run to 20 games in all. With that in mind, John Herdman has called an MLS-heavy group (22 of 28 players on the roster) to a Florida bubble experience that will launch their mission to end a 36-years-and-counting World Cup drought. It’s the CanMNT’s first event in a year.

Jan. 9-29: US women’s national team January camp – Domestic location TBA
The back-to-back defending world champions reunite ahead of a big year, centered on their gold-medal ambitions at the Tokyo Olympics that were delayed a year by the COVID-19 pandemic. The four-time Olympic champs were knocked out in stunning fashion at the quarterfinal stage in Brazil in 2016 and will be hungry to regain their past heights.

Jan. 11-15: United Soccer Coaches (formerly NSCAA) Convention – Online
The 2021 edition of this annual wintertime gathering of thousands of coaches, players, executives and just about everyone else in the sport is going virtual in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many MLS coaches and executives will be among the dozens of presenters leading seminars and sessions, including high-profile guests Jose Mourinho and Jesse Marsch.

Jan. 13: NWSL College Draft – Online
The National Women's Soccer League, North America's top women's pro league, gets its 2021 season started with its draft, which will be streamed live on the NWSL Twitch channel at 7 pm ET. Expansion side Racing Louisville FC pick first.

Jan. 21: MLS SuperDraft, presented by adidas – 2 pm ET
The SuperDraft provides MLS teams the opportunity to bolster their rosters with top talent from NCAA soccer and beyond. Like last year, the 2021 edition will take place as a live show streamed on MLSsoccer.com and other MLS channels. Expansion arrivals Austin FC hold the No. 1 pick.

Mid-to-late January: MLS preseason begins
Players and coaches begin reporting to their respective clubs as preparations for the new season get underway.

Jan30: 2020 Copa Conmebol Libertadores final – Rio de Janeiro
The top club competition in South America, Libertadores is a yearlong marathon in search of the continental champion, navigated by the top 47 clubs across 10 nations. Last year’s edition was delayed by the pandemic, so the final two rounds have stretched into the new year. Brazil’s Flamengo are reigning holders. Boca Juniors, River Plate, Santos and Palmeiras are the remaining contenders hoping to hoist the hardware at Rio’s famed Maracanã.

Feb. 1NWSL preseason begins
Players and coaches report to their respective clubs as preparations for the new season begin.

Feb. 1-11FIFA Club World Cup – Qatar
The club champions from every confederation in the world gather in the Middle East for this unique tournament, the only set occasion on which clubs from different continents face off in competitive action. Liga MX giants Tigres UANL will represent this region thanks to their Concacaf Champions League triumph in December over LAFC. They’ll be joined by Bayern Munich (Europe), Al Ahly (Africa), Ulsan Hyundai (Asia), Auckland City (Oceania), host club Al-Duhail and South America's still-to-be-crowned Copa Libertadores champions.

Feb. 3: Adjusted NCAA Division I soccer regular season begins
With the usual fall 2020 college soccer season disrupted by the pandemic, the NCAA moved its primary Division I men's and women’s soccer seasons (as well as its postseason tournaments) to the spring. This marks the first day on which programs may schedule matches.

Feb. 8-25: SheBelieves Cup – Locations TBA
The USWNT welcome three other elite women’s sides to the States for this annual spring tournament, a key test against top opposition.

Feb. 15UEFA Champions League knockout stage begins
US and Canadian players are featuring in record numbers in this year’s edition of Europe’s top club competition. With the group stage complete, the stakes ratchet up that much further as the elimination phase gets underway.

February 26-27: U.S. Soccer Annual General Meeting – Chicago/online
The 2021 edition of the U.S. Soccer Federation’s annual gathering of member associations and stakeholders is expected to remain an online event in light of the pandemic. Elections for the organization’s president and vice president positions are on the docket, with retired LA Galaxy and USMNT legend Cobi Jones among those to throw his hat in the ring for the latter post.

February/March TBA: Concacaf Champions League begins
North America's club championship tournament will return at some point in early spring, featuring 16 top teams from across the continent. Atlanta UnitedColumbus Crew SCPhiladelphia Union and the Portland Timbers are this year’s MLS representatives, and could yet be joined by Toronto FC should the Reds win the final of the reformatted Canadian Championship in January.

February/March TBA: 2020 Canadian Championship final
Canada’s cup tourney had to be reformatted due to the pandemic and its winner will be determined by this match, which features Toronto FC and Canadian Premier League champions Forge FC. Details are still to be specified but Canada Soccer has set a general timeframe of the first quarter of the year, “with a date and location to be determined in consideration of club and league schedules.” Whoever hoists the Voyageurs Cup will also represent the nation in the 2021 Concacaf Champions League.

Early March (tentative): MLS regular season begins
The plan is for Major League Soccer to kick off year 26 around its usual time, though dates, times and other schedule specifics are still to be announced. Austin’s arrival will run the league’s membership to 27 clubs.

Spring 2021

March 19: FIFA Council meeting – Online
This executive conclave of the leaders of world soccer’s governing body usually features a full slate of funding and policy deliberations, held remotely for the time being.

March TBA: Concacaf men’s Olympic qualifying – Guadalajara, Mexico
After a year-long postponement, the Under-23 national teams of Canada, the United States, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras and Mexico hope to compete for one of Concacaf’s two places at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo; matches will be held at the Jalisco and Akron stadiums. Details for this event have not yet been announced, and it may yet be further affected by the pandemic.

March 22-30: FIFA men’s international fixture window
The first opportunity of the year for men’s national teams to schedule camps and up to two matches with their full player pools. The USMNT is expected to arrange one or two friendlies in Europe, while Canada and the rest of Concacaf’s teams ranked 6th to 35th are currently scheduled to begin World Cup qualifying.

March 25: Canada vs. Bermuda, Concacaf World Cup qualifying, first round

March 28: Canada at Cayman Islands, Concacaf World Cup qualifying, first round

Spring dates TBA: 202Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup begins
After the 2020 edition was cancelled due to COVID-19, the same field of amateur and professional teams from across America's soccer pyramid will hope that circumstances allow the historic tournament to unfold this time around. The Open Cup dates back to 1914 and is one of the oldest soccer competitions in the world. Atlanta United remain defending champions; the Open Cup winner will earn a six-figure financial prize, a berth in Concacaf Champions League and have their name engraved on the Dewar Challenge Trophy.

Spring dates TBA: Canadian Premier League begins
In yet another case of a competition hoping to return to something like normalcy in 2021, Canada’s pro league will look to kick off its third season this spring, with clubs in Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Hamilton, Langford (British Columbia), Ottawa, Winnipeg and York (Ontario). Last year the pandemic limited CPL to “the Island Games,” a bubble tournament on Prince Edward Island similar to MLS is Back.

Spring dates TBAUSL Championship regular season begins
The United States’ second-division pro league will also return to play at some point in the spring. Some reports suggest that a May start is being considered to allow for additional time for COVID-19 to be tamed and, possibly, more fans in stadiums.

April, dates TBA: NWSL season begins
The women's league kicks off its eighth season of play with 10 member teams, including siblings of MLS sides in HoustonOrlando and Portland. It begins with the NWSL Challenge Cup, the 2020 summer bubble tournament so popular that it’s been added to the league’s annual calendar going forward. The public-health outlook will determine whether the new season-opening tourney takes place “in multiple bubble environments, team markets, or some combination of the two.”

April 18: NCAA Division I tournament selection draws
With the usual fall 2020 college soccer season disrupted by the pandemic, NCAA moved its Division I men's and women’s soccer tournaments to the spring (and also reduced the field by 25%, to 36 teams and 48 teams, respectively). The field will be announced on this date, one day after the conclusion of the regular season.

May 13-17: 2020 Men’s and Women’s College Cup – Cary, N.C.
The NCAA soccer season reaches its crescendo as the Division I men’s and women’s tournaments’ final four on each side will gather at WakeMed Soccer Park, home of North Carolina FC and the North Carolina Courage, to decide who will be crowned D1 national champions. Georgetown are defending men’s champs and Stanford are defending women’s champs.

May 21: 71st FIFA Congress – Online
The grand annual gathering of the world governing body’s legislature was set to be hosted in Tokyo, but will be conducted virtually in light of the pandemic.

May 20: UEFA Champions League final – Istanbul, Turkey
One of the biggest games in the world every year, this affair will star the final two survivors of the Champions League, dueling for the trophy that represents the summit of European club soccer. Atatürk Olympic Stadium was slated to host the 2020 edition, which had to be moved to Portugal due to that rescheduled event’s altered format, and so the Istanbul-based ground will host the 2021 final instead.

Summer 2021

Summer, dates TBA: Leagues Cup

The second installment of this knockout tournament featuring select MLS and Liga MX sides was lost to the pandemic in 2020, and the plan is to resume it this summer with 16 participants, eight from each league. Cruz Azul won the inaugural Leagues Cup to claim the custom-crafted trophy and cash prize in 2019.

May 31-June 15: FIFA men’s international fixture window
National teams around the world will gather for the first fixture dates of the North American summer, which includes the knockout phase of Concacaf Nations League and another batch of first-round World Cup qualifiers.

Early June: Concacaf Nations League semifinals, final, third-place match – details TBA
After multiple delays, the premier edition of Concacaf’s newest competition will finally conclude “in a centralized location in the United States” that's still to be announced. Top-seeded Mexico play fourth-seeded Costa Rica in one semifinal and the third-seeded United States face second-seeded Honduras in the other, tentatively set for June 4. The winners advance to the CNL championship final, tentatively set for June 7. A third-place game is also planned.

June, dates TBA: 2021 Canadian Championship begins
Every year Canada’s pro and top semi-pro teams compete in this engaging tournament for possession of the Voyageurs Cup, national bragging rights and a CCL berth.

June 5: Aruba vs. Canada, Concacaf World Cup qualifying, first round

June 8: Canada vs. Suriname, Concacaf World Cup qualifying, first round

June 12 and 15: Concacaf World Cup qualifying, second round

The six group winners from the opening round of qualifiers advance to this stage, currently slated as a trio of two-legged home-and-home series. The three survivors progress on to join the region’s five top-ranked nations (Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico and the United States) in the third round, dubbed the Octagonal, which kicks off in the September window.

June 11-July 11: Euros & Copa América

Brace yourselves: After a year-long coronavirus postponement, two of the biggest international tournaments in the world are unfolding in near-unison this summer:

  • 2020 Copa América – Argentina and Colombia

Another huge event on the world’s calendar, the latest incarnation of South America’s championship features a new bi-hosting format across venues in Buenos Aires, Cordoba, La Plata, Mendoza and Santiago del Estero, as well as Barranquilla, Medellin, Bogota and Cali. Conmbeol's 10 member nations will take part alongside guests Australia and Qatar; Brazil are defending champions. Several MLS-based players are likely to feature.

  • UEFA European Championship – various venues

Bigger and broader than ever, Euro 2020 is envisioned as a sprawling event featuring 24 teams hosted in 12 cities in 12 countries across the Old Continent. That's the summertime plan, though UEFA officials have acknowledged that pandemic conditions could lead to fewer cities, nations or venues hosting. Portugal are reigning champs, and several MLS-based players are in contention to compete for their respective national teams.

July 2-Aug. 1: Concacaf Gold Cup – various venues

Canada, the USMNT, 13 other Concacaf national teams and guest side Qatar gather in the United States to compete for the region’s international championship, a title that's currently in Mexico's possession. Technically speaking, the Gold Cup proper begins with the onset of the group stage on July 10, while 12 Caribbean and Central American sides will convene in the US the previous week for the rescheduled “Road to Gold Cup” qualifying process to determine who earns the final four slots in the main event. The USMNT and CanMNT have already been drawn together into Group B alongside Martinique and one of the yet-to-be-qualified nations. A litany of MLS-based players usually star for their respective national teams.

July 23-Aug. 8: Olympic football tournament – Japan

Seven venues in six Japanese cities will host the men’s (a predominantly Under-23 tournament with 16 teams) and women’s (12 teams, full senior squads) soccer tournaments at the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics. Brazil are the current men’s gold-medal holders; meanwhile, under UEFA’s unusual qualifying approach, 2016 women’s champs Germany won’t get to defend their medals after losing to Sweden in the quarterfinals of the 2019 Women’s World Cup. Both Canada and the United States have already qualified for the women’s tournament, while Concacaf men’s Olympic qualification has yet to take place.

July/August, dates TBA: 202MLS All-Star Game presented by Target – Los Angeles
After the 2020 version had to be cancelled due to the pandemic, LAFC’s glittering downtown home, Banc of California Stadium, is expected to carry over All-Star hosting privileges to this summer. Originally planned as a first-of-its-kind summer showdown between the MLS All-Stars and Liga MX All-Stars, the neighboring leagues will resume discussions regarding the event. There's every expectation that next year's All-Star Game will be MLS vs. Liga MX in LA.

August/September, details TBA: 202Campeones Cup
The third edition of the one-off clash between the champions of MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX was lost to the pandemic in 2020, but the supercup-style fixture is slated to return this summer. The reigning MLS Cup holders will host Mexico’s “Campeon de Campeones,” the winner of the annual meeting between the fall and spring season champs.

Fall 2021

Aug. 30-Sept. 7: FIFA international fixture window
With COVID-19 deeply disrupting the opening phases of 2022 World Cup qualification, the September and October 2021 and January and March 2022 windows have been expanded to allow for three qualifying matches per window, letting the cycle be completed in a condensed time period. In the North American region, the final round of qualifying for Qatar ‘22 – shifted from the previous six-team “Hexagonal” to an eight-team “Octagonal” this cycle – officially begins. Final details like date/time and host venues will be decided in the coming months.

  • The USMNT will open the “Octagon” with a visit to a still-to-be-determined second-round survivor (A/F winner), then host another (B/E winner) before a road date at Honduras during this window

  • Should they advance out of first-round Group B and win their second-round series vs. the Group E winner, the CanMNT will also play three matches during this window, including a visit to the US as the aforementioned B/E winner.

October/November date TBADecision Day presented by AT&T
The MLS regular season concludes in dramatic fashion with synchronized kickoffs of games across the Eastern and Western Conferences, with final places in the standings and the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs on the line.

Oct. 4-12: FIFA international fixture window
The final eight survivors of the Concacaf World Cup qualifying process will each play three games during this window.

  • The USMNT host Jamaica, visit the winner of the C/D second-round series and host Costa Rica.

  • Should they advance out of first-round Group B and win their second-round series vs. the Group E winner, the CanMNT will also play three matches during this window.

October/November dates TBA: Audi MLS Cup Playoffs
The final sprint to MLS Cup. Format and schedule to be announced in the months to come.

November dates TBA: 2021 NWSL playoffs
The NWSL season concludes with an expanded playoff format of six participating teams, an increase from the previous four. The championship game will take place the weekend of Nov. 20.

November/December TBA: 202MLS Cup – site TBD
The league’s new champions will be crowned, unless holders Columbus Crew SC claim the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy again.

Nov. 8-16: FIFA international fixture window

The final eight survivors of the Concacaf World Cup qualifying process will each play two games during this window.

  • The USMNT will host Mexico in this cycle’s first installment of the much-anticipated “clash of giants” between the region’s two biggest nations, then visit Jamaica.
  • Should they advance out of first-round Group B and win their second-round series vs. the Group E winner, the CanMNT will also play two matches during this window.

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