2021 MLS Season Kicks Off

Robert Musantry
Sports Business Editor

The 2021 MLS season has begun, the first with 27 teams as Austin FC joins the league. As the league continues to grow and expand the influence of soccer in North America, the amount of storylines to follow expands as well. With the 2020 season having a major delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has only been a few months since the last game ended, however the league’s news cycle did not stop in the offseason.

Austin FC are beginning their first MLS season in 2021, as the league’s 27th active franchise (Photo Courtesy of Austin FC)

Austin FC is 2021’s biggest story, as the team begins their first season. The team held their expansion draft in the middle of December 2020, meaning the squad has only been together for just around four months. This may seem like a major disadvantage on paper, however the team has filled out their roster with plenty of experience players as well as Daniel Pereira, the top pick in the MLS SuperDraft. The team also notably has a designated player spot left open, meaning a top talent could be signed to the team sometime during the season.

Elsewhere, the Columbus Crew kept most of their championship winning team together, also adding former New York Red Bulls star Bradley Wright-Phillips and Kevin Molino from Minnesota United. Molino was seen as the top available free agent by many, and Wright-Phillips adds even more experience to a team that used their skillset to win an MLS Cup during a global pandemic.

Yankee Stadium, built to host New York Yankees baseball, will also be home to NYCFC soccer for the seventh straight season (Photo Courtesy of NYCFC)

New York City FC, known simply as NYCFC, are entering yet another season full of question marks. These questions surround the fact that the team still lacks their own, soccer-specific stadium. They play their home games at Yankee Stadium, home of baseball’s New York Yankees, and often run into scheduling issues when the two seasons overlap. For the second season in a row, NYCFC will be using Red Bull Arena, home of their rivals New York Red Bull, for some home games while the Yankees season is still going on. If the Yankees reach the playoffs, the number of home games played at Red Bull Arena could expand to as many as 11. It was rumored that the team would build an arena by the Belmont Park race track, however that plot of land was eventually bought up by the New York Islanders for their new hockey arena, putting NYCFC back at square one.

Alexandre Pato comes into the league as the highest profile player to sign in the offseason. Pato’s storied career includes stops at Chelsea and AC Milan, and he now will play for Orlando City SC. He joins a long list of former stars of Europe coming to North America at the tail end of their careers, yet he also represents a major talent boost to a playoff team.

These are just some of the storylines to follow as MLS looks to play a complete schedule in 2021 after playing a fractured season in 2020.


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