The 2021 Major League Soccer campaign kicks off Friday (April 16) as a record 27 teams prepare to go in search of the biggest prize in North American soccer. League newcomers Austin FC will make their MLS debut away to Los Angeles FC on Saturday, hoping to stage a few surprised in the newly beefed-up Western Conference.
Only four months have passed since the Columbus Crew beat the Seattle Sounders to clinch their second MLS Cup, but almost a decade has passed since a team successfully defended the crown. Two-time champion coach Caleb Porter will be desperate to alter that trend by the time this season’s final is scheduled to be played on December 11.
What TV Channel is MLS On?
Major League Soccer is set ready to make its comeback in 2021, and United States viewers can catch all the opening-weekend action across FOX, ABC and TUDN. You can live stream MLS matches on fuboTV.
MLS Opening Weekend Schedule
Friday, April 16
Houston Dynamo vs. San Jose Earthquakes, 8 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Minnesota United, 9:30 p.m. ET - FS1
Saturday, April 17
Montréal vs. Toronto, 2 p.m. ET
Orlando City vs. Atlanta United, 3 p.m. ET - TUDN
Los Angeles FC vs. Austin, 6 p.m. ET - FOX
FC Dallas vs. Colorado Rapids, 8 p.m. ET
New York Red Bull vs. Sporting Kansas City, 8 p.m. ET - MSG
D.C. United vs. New York City FC, 8 p.m. ET - YES
Nashville SC vs. Cincinatti, 8:30 p.m. ET
Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution, 8:30 p.m. ET
Sunday, April 18
Inter Miami vs. LA Galaxy, 3 p.m. ET - ABC
Columbus Crew vs. Philadelphia Union, 5:30 p.m. ET - FS1
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Portland Timbers, 10 p.m. ET
2021 MLS Key Dates
April 16: Regular season starts
November 7: Regular season ends
November 19: Playoffs start
December 11: MLS Cup Final
Can Columbus Keep the Cup Close?
A total of 13 franchises have lifted the MLS Cup until now, but only three have managed to win the title in back-to-back years. The LA Galaxy were the most recent to do so (2011-12), while the Houston Dynamo beat New England in consecutive finals (2006-07), and D.C. United clinched the inaugural two championships (1996-97).
That infrequency paints MLS in a different light to most of its European counterparts, where dominant organizations may be more commonplace. Moreover, it complicates the job for Columbus in attempting to best last year’s achievements, thrashing the Sounders 3-0 in their December finale:
Porter made quick work of delivering a title to Columbus in only his second season with the team, but moves were made in the off-season to suggest The Crew won’t rest on their laurels. The New Crew Stadium in downtown Columbus won’t be ready until July, keeping Columbus at their old stomping ground for the time being.
The club also added a few new stars in Bradley Wright-Phillips (from LAFC) and Kevin Molino (from Minnesota), each of whom have won silverware in their American careers. The latter’s impact has already been curtailed by injury, ruling him out of Sunday’s season-opener at home to the Philadelphia Union and beyond:
The Columbus Crew ended a 12-year wait between championship wins and moved back to the MLS summit last year; now comes the challenge of ensuring they don’t fall off again so swiftly.
Young Bucks On the Ranch
A decade after Austin Aztex migrated to form a franchise in Orlando, Florida, the Texas city will once again be home to a high-level soccer franchise in 2021.vAustin FC are the latest franchise to open for business in Major League Soccer, joining the Dynamo and FC Dallas as state rivals. Their journey begins with a trip to Los Angeles FC on Saturday, pitting Austin co-owner Matthew McConaughey against LAFC investor and fellow Hollywood actor Will Ferrell:
They say everything is bigger in Texas, but Austin may be wise to keep expectations modest ahead of their debut. It’s common for new teams to struggle—as Cincinnati discovered while winning only four of their 23 games last season—but then we also saw Nashville SC and Inter Miami each make it to the playoffs in their inaugural terms:
Austin arrive on the other side of the bracket to balance the conferences out again somewhat, with a far smoother ride expected compared to the difficulty of 2020. Only the top seven from each conference will make the cut for the postseason in what should be a less forgiving contest this year, when Austin hope to storm the league in style.
Fresh Franchises Targeting New Heights
Speaking of new faces, MLS will welcome a string of managerial changes for the 2021 season. Former Manchester United team-mates Phil Neville and Gabriel Heinze have taken over Inter Miami and Atlanta United, respectively, while Wilfried Nancy will make his coaching debut as a replacement for Thierry Henry at Montréal.
David Beckham—a major stakeholder in Inter Miami—has repeated the stance that Neville got his job on merit and not because of their friendship. This will be Neville’s first foray into men’s management, however, having previously coached England’s women for three years:
The Herons made a very positive start to life in MLS last season, but after so many delays and disruptions getting the franchise off the ground, people are bound to expect big things. The same could also be said for Nashville after they went as far as the conference semifinals in their own debut year.
Many teams in the league have been present for a number of years and have already established some place among the MLS pecking order, but a new wave of clubs arrives still settling on their status.