The 2020 MLS season ended not too long ago, with Columbus Crew FC lifting the MLS Cup trophy after defeating the Seattle Sounders last December.
A new season would usually start in late February or early March, but due to Covid-19 related issues, league officials have decided to move the date back to the beginning of April for the 2021 season, the latest start in over a decade. Regular season would end in early November, with the MLS Playoffs kicking off on November 19 and the MLS Cup 2021 taking place on December 11.
It’s important to mention as well that there will be a new team this year, Austin FC, and with them, there will be a total of 27 teams already in the MLS, which remains with the same format as we know it, Eastern and Western Conferences, and a playoff system at the end of the season.
A possible lockout is in the near future for the MLS
The league issued a memo recently, in which it warns teams and staff of the possibility of a lockout, or strike, which would be the first in MLS history.
Why? It’s no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic has hit the world hard in many aspects, one of them being economics. Not being able to have fans in the stadiums has been the biggest blow for all sports teams in the world, as this represents a big chunk of their income season after season. The MLS alone reported a los of nearly $1 billion in 2020, and most of it due to the pandemic’s effects.
Things are looking a bit better now, but the pandemic is far from over or from being controlled, and this means that the possibility of bringing fans back to the stadium is still far-fetched, and both league and teams need to take this into consideration for their season projections.
So, why a lockout in the MLS?
Basically, the MLS and the MLSPA need to come to an agreement on how they will handle the economic part of the business now and in the next few years. The whole issue is due mainly to a disagreement on how salaries and salary caps will be handled for the next few seasons. The league is trying to prevent a possible worst-case scenario, while the MLSPA is trying to look out for the players interests.
There have been some concessions made already by both parts, like insurance issues for example, for players and their families, but when it comes to salaries and salary increases for the upcoming years, things have not been as easy.
Who’s to blame for this? Nobody really, because what’s been happening with the pandemic is basically a test for everyone, and there are no guidelines or correct answers in most cases, just trial and error. Both parts here are trying to do what they think is best, but the truth is, if they don’t agree on something soon, we might be heading to the league’s first lockout ever, and that is a scary thought for everyone, considering that the 2026 FIFA World Cup will be played in the United States, Canada and Mexico, and these years are key to building a successful plan, not only for the tournament, but for the future of all North American soccer leagues in general.