With the COVID-19 pandemic impacting part of the MLS regular season, the league has now made key decisions in regards to three expansion franchises.
Three of the four expansion clubs saw changes in the start time in light of the pandemic, with Austin FC scheduled to remain on schedule for a 2021 launch. Charlotte (2022), St. Louis (2023), and Sacramento (2023) however will see their expansion debuts pushed back by one year.
“We have always taken a thoughtful and strategic approach to our expansion planning and have delivered successful launches for every new club,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a league statement. “It is important for each club to take the necessary time to launch their inaugural MLS seasons the way their fans and communities deserve. With the extra year to make up for what has been a challenging 2020, these teams will be well-positioned for their debuts and for long-term success.”
All four franchises announced statements on Friday following the decision made by the league.
“Unwavering club ownership commitment, on-schedule development of our stadium and training facility projects, the first player signing in club history, onboarding of staff and corporate partners, the pace of ticket sales, and the incredible enthusiasm from our supporters and community partners to jointly launch Austin’s major league team, continue to serve as our compass as we prepare for our inaugural season in 2021,” Austin FC president Andy Loughane said. “As planned, Austin FC to launch in 2021.”
Austin FC recently announced Rodney Redes as the club’s first MLS signing, with plenty more signings expected this calendar year.
“We are committed to bringing Major League Soccer to our city and region,” Charlotte MLS owner David Tepper said in a statement. “The party’s still on! We are just delaying it a bit to ensure we have the best experience for our fans when we do start playing.”
Charlotte will unveil the team’s official name and crest on July 22nd and remains on scheduled to add to its roster once the transfer window opens on Aug. 12th. The franchise is also scheduled to begin training at their youth academy in July.
“We’ve been working closely with the league and collectively agreed that the adjusted timeline was the best decision to position our club for a historic launch and long-term success,” MLS4TheLou CEO Carolyn Kindle Betz said. “We can’t wait to get on the pitch in 2023 and are still moving full steam ahead to build a world-class club and stadium district that will invigorate Downtown West and be a meaningful part of our current downtown renaissance.”
Construction of both St. Louis’ stadium district and team headquarters is still moving forward this summer.
“Our goal remains the same – to build the best stadium and MLS club befitting the wonderful Sacramento region,” Sacramento Republic FC investor Matt Alvarez said in a club statement. “With an additional year, we can better adjust for the impact of the pandemic on our community and identify how we can best serve the neighbors and friends that have supported our club on its rise to Major League Soccer.”
“We will bring Sacramento into the top-tier of American soccer ready to compete at a championship level, and create an opportunity to support the next era of regional growth with a world-class venue and a commitment to continued community investment.”
Sacramento’s Railyards Stadium will break ground this fall and is expected to be ready for a full 2023 season. Republic FC will remain in the USL’s Championship Division through the 2022 season while also continuing preparations for its inaugural MLS season.