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MLS announces April 3 start, playoff dates

MLS announces April 3 start, playoff dates
The Portland Timbers won last year's MLS is Back Tournament after the league stopped its season due to the pandemic, while this season is delayed by three weeks before a April 3 start. Photo courtesy of Jared Martinez/Matt Stith/Devin L'Amoreaux/MLS

Jan. 26 (UPI) -- The 2021 Major League Soccer season will start on April 3 before a late summer MLS All-Star Game and a Dec. 11 MLS Cup final, the league announced.

MLS also announced Monday that its six-week preseason training starts on Feb. 22. The opening weekend of the season is on April 3 and 4, before a late-August rivalry week.

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Decision Day -- the final day of the MLS season -- is set for Nov. 7. The 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs start on Nov. 19.

Each of MLS' 27 teams will play 34 matches. Teams also will compete in the Campeones Cup and Leagues Cup during a late-summer window. The league also said its teams will participate in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, Canadian Championship and the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League in 2021.

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MLS expansion team Austin FC will debut this season in the Western Conference. The league now features 14 teams in the Eastern Conference and 13 teams in the Eastern Conference.

MLS said that players are required to quarantine and conduct individual training session before they report for the preseason. All players, technical staff and essential club staff will be tested every other day, as well as the day before each game. Teams will take chartered flights for all road trips.

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MLS said it continues to work with its three Canadian teams regarding plans for the season because travel restrictions remain between the United States and Canada. The league said it will announce details on those plans at a later date.

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The MLS and the players union continue to have discussions about salaries for players for the season. In its latest proposal, the league presented for the players to receive 100% of their salaries in return for a two-year extension to the collective bargaining agreement.

The parties have yet to come to an agreement, but are expected to meet again in the coming days.

MLS had planned a March start date before it delayed the season by two weeks. The league announced in July that it has delayed the first seasons of expansion teams in Charlotte, N.C., St. Louis and Sacramento for a year due to COVID-19.

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The 2020 MLS season started in late February before it was stopped on March 8 because of the pandemic. The league then held the MLS is Back Tournament from July 8 to Aug. 11, inside a bubble campus at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., before the season resumed on Aug. 12 and ended Nov. 8. The 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs were held from Nov. 20 to Dec. 12.

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