If there was one thing that Don Garber just made clear, it may have been that Major League Soccer’s plans for 2021 remain largely unclear.
Garber held his annual MLS State of the League Address on Tuesday afternoon to discuss a number of topics, and chief among them was what is in store for next season. The ongoing effects from the COVID-19 pandemic have made for plenty uncertainty with regards to the 2021 campaign, including when the league will start.
The MLS commissioner provided a timeline with regards to that, but not a concrete one.
“We have established this (early to mid) March timeframe because what we do know is that CONCACAF through FIFA has laid out their dates for the 2021 Champions League,” said Garber. “We have not yet finalized what is happening with the U.S. Open Cup and we have got to address the fact that it was not played in 2020 and we are trying to play as many games as possible because it is not just about fans, it is about are we going to be able to retain as much of our sponsor and media revenue?
“We obviously have a lot of work to do.”
One of the key items that MLS has to figure out with regards to the upcoming season is if the three Canadian teams will be able to play in their respective markets. Toronto FC, the Montreal Impact, and the Vancouver Whitecaps were all forced to play “home” games in the United States at certain points this year due to Canada’s travel restrictions, and it is unknown whether that will change by the time games get underway in 2021.
“We are concerned about it,” said Garber. “… We do not have any news with what is going to happen with the (Canada) MLS teams. We are certainly hopeful that we are going to be able to play in our home markets, but it is too early to make a guess on that.”
As for when more supporters will be allowed back into all stadiums, Garber stated that was also a bit of a mystery. He said it would vary depending on each market, and on how the general public in each city responds to the immediate aftermath of the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccinations.
“It will vary state by state and province by province,” said Garber. “We need to make a (regular season) schedule for all the reasons that you would expect. We cannot wait for an understanding of the impact of the vaccine in both the United States and Canada.
“We are not going to know that and we have to set a schedule prior to that. We also are not going to know what reaction fans have to returning to stadiums. Just the idea that the vaccine is available does not give us an indication as to when, in quote, fans will be returning to stadiums.”
Regardless of all the unknowns, Garber emphasized the importance of MLS resuming play in a timely manner next year. Not only because the league lost close to $1 billion in revenue this season because of the pandemic, but also because MLS may not be able to afford a similar type of financial blow next year.
“I am very, very hopeful that 2021 will be a way better year than ‘20,” said Garber, “because I do not think any business could sustain the kind of impact that we sustained in 2020 for two years in a row.”