MLS delays debuts of three expansion teams over virus

Los Angeles (AFP) –


Major League Soccer has delayed the inaugural seasons of three new expansion teams as it manages the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the league, a statement said Friday.

MLS said that while new Texas club Austin FC would kick off their inaugural season in 2021 as planned, the debut of Charlotte's new expansion team had been shunted from next year to 2022.

Expansion franchises in St. Louis and Sacramento will now join the league in 2023 instead of 2022.

MLS said the revised timetable would give teams extra time to begin business operations and stadium development following disruption from the coronavirus crisis.

Austin FC's debut will go ahead as planned as the club, formally announced as an expansion team in January 2019, had already made "significant progress" towards its launch before the pandemic hit.

"We have always taken a thoughtful and strategic approach to our expansion planning and have delivered successful launches for every new club," said MLS Commissioner Don Garber.

"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."

The 2020 MLS season was halted in March as the coronavirus pandemic erupted, but returned earlier this month with a World Cup-style tournament played at a single location in Orlando, Florida.