MLS Expansion: New timeline released for inaugural season of newest clubs

Expansion update - generic - primary image

MLS announced a new timeline for the inaugural seasons of three of the four expansion clubs in light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Austin FC, which was announced back in January 2019 and made significant progress before the onset of the pandemic, will remain on schedule for a 2021 launch. The other three clubs, all announced in the second half of 2019, will each have their expansion seasons rescheduled by one year. The updated schedule follows below:

  • 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.”

Austin FC (2021)

The club shared this statement from Austin FC president Andy Loughnane:

“Unwavering club ownership commitment, on-schedule development of our stadium and training facility projects, the first player signing in club history, onboarding of staff and corporate partners, the pace of ticket sales, and the incredible enthusiasm from our supporters and community partners to jointly launch Austin’s major league team, continue to serve as our compass as we prepare for our inaugural season in 2021. As planned, Austin FC to launch in 2021.”

Charlotte MLS (2022)

“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.”

St. Louis (2023)

“We’ve been working closely with the league and collectively agreed that the adjusted timeline was the best decision to position our club for a historic launch and long-term success,” said Carolyn Kindle Betz, MLS4TheLou CEO. “We can’t wait to get on the pitch in 2023 and are still moving full steam ahead to build a world-class club and stadium district that will invigorate Downtown West and be a meaningful part of our current downtown renaissance.”

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 (2023)

“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.”

  • STADIUM CONSTRUCTION: The Railyards Stadium will now break ground this fall, and will be ready for a full 2023 season. CAA ICON and Mortenson, as general contractor, have been selected to support the development and construction. The architect on the project is HNTB.
  • TICKETS: Republic FC season ticket members and Railyards Stadium deposit holders retain their priority and seat selection will continue as planned, beginning in 2021. Later this year, fans and local business owners will have a first look at the team’s new premium seating options.
  • COMPETITION: Republic FC will remain in United Soccer League’s Championship division through the 2022 season while maintaining preparations for its inaugural MLS season.
  • ACADEMY: The club’s youth development academy – in operation since 2015 and has generated 12 first-team players – is set to join the new MLS elite youth platform this season featuring year-round competition.
  • TRAINING CENTER: The club also continues to develop plans for a high-performance training center in the region that will accommodate the first team and all academy players, with a goal of including auxiliary fields to host large youth sports tournaments and other events.