MLS expansion plans pushed back due to COVID-19

Austin FC stadium rendering June 2019

MLS expansion plans for Charlotte, St. Louis and Sacramento have been pushed back, as the league maps out a future in a time of uncertainty due to COVID-19 concerns.

Austin FC is still on for a 2021 inaugural season, with significant progress made on the organization and a new stadium before the onset of the pandemic. The other three clubs, all announced in the second half of 2019, will each have their expansion seasons rescheduled by one year:

  • Austin FC: 2021 inaugural season
  • Charlotte: 2022 inaugural season
  • St. Louis: 2023 inaugural season
  • Sacramento: 2023 inaugural season

The decision was made by MLS Commissioner Don Garber, in conjunction with the league’s expansion committee.

“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 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.”

“We are committed to bringing Major League Soccer to our city and region,” Charlotte MLS owner  David Tepper said in a club 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.”

According to that statement, club operations will continue to move forward in preparation for the 2022 season: 

  • NAME & CREST: The club’s brand, including the unveiling of the team’s official name and crest, will be launched July 22.
  • PLAYER SIGNINGS: After announcing their first signing in club history, Charlotte MLS remains on schedule to sign additional players when the transfer window opens August 12.
  • ACADEMY: The Charlotte MLS youth academy, launched in March, will operate as scheduled with training beginning in July.
  • TICKET DEPOSITS: Supporters who placed ticket deposits for the inaugural season will be allowed to select their seats within the bowl at Bank of America Stadium this fall.

“After a lot of discussion with Major League Soccer, we are confident it is in the best interest of our club and our supporters to take additional time to ensure a successful inaugural season,” said Tom Glick, President of Tepper Sports & Entertainment. “When we were awarded the team in December, we knew we were on an extremely tight timeline to begin play in 2021, but we were ready to meet that challenge. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted several of our essential initiatives. We have made huge progress in the last few months but having additional time to build is important.”

In St. Louis, construction of the club’s stadium district and team headquarters is still moving forward and the club’s construction partners are closely following guidelines from health and government officials to effectively and safely manage the ongoing stadium project. 

Sacramento Republic FC will continue to compete in USL Championship, with a groundbreaking for The Railyards Stadium now set for this fall, with a 2023 opening expected.\“Our goal remains the same – to build the best stadium and MLS club befitting the wonderful Sacramento region,” said Sacramento Republic FC investor Matt Alvarez 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.”

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