Don Garber - MLS Commissioner - at podium
USA Today Sports Images

MLS commissioner Don Garber provides updates on preseason, Canadian clubs and more

The big news that came from MLS commissioner Don Garber's virtual press conference on Wednesday was the announcement that the 2021 season will now start on April 17, back from the originally announced April 3.

If you're reading on this site, or have an active Twitter account, you almost definitely knew that by now. 

But that wasn't the only item of note to come out of Garber's discussion with media, as he provided a few updates on a number of pressing questions as the league and clubs navigate the COVID-19 pandemic for a second season. 

Preseason will be pushed back

With the season delayed, the start of preseason will also be pushed back. Originally scheduled for February 22, no official dates have yet been announced for the beginning of preseason.

“We’re now going to begin our regular season on April 17," Garber told media. "As you know, the CBA negotiations were extended by a week beyond our original deadline so as a result we’re moved back the season two weeks to allow our players and our clubs the time to prepare. We’ll announce the date of the opening of training camps really soon then the regular season schedule soon in the coming weeks, hopefully by early March."

Teams are typically permitted to open camp six weeks before the regular season while Concacaf Champions League teams have been allowed to start earlier, as the tournament typically begins before MLS's opening weekend. This year's CCL is scheduled to start on April 6

“Clearly we’ll be focused on ensuring that the teams involved in Champions League have the best opportunity to succeed," Garber added. "But the timetable hasn’t been set as of today, but it’s something we could finalize and announce shortly.”

Update on where Canadian clubs will start season

With MLS having teams on both sides of the United States' northern border, navigating travel across country lines during a pandemic has proved tricky. 

Last season, the three Canadian clubs (Toronto FC, CF Montréal and Vancouver Whitecaps) began play at home markets while just facing each other. Phase two saw the clubs spend their "home" games at different venues in the US, leaving the players and staff away from home and their families for weeks at a time. 

With mandatory quarantine and other health protocols in place, the three clubs could be on the road at the start of the season.

“What is going on in Canada is very challenging," Garber said. "We continue to work with our teams to engage with Canadian authorities. All three of our teams are working on alternative plans as to where they’re going to be in the short term. I feel for our Canadian clubs and I feel for our players.”

Stay tuned for further updates. 

“We’re really close to being able to announce where our Canadian clubs will play," Garber said.

Charter flights will continue throughout the pandemic

A topic of conversation for players and fans alike, Garber confirmed that the league will continue to have teams charter all flights when traveling. 

“As long as we’re managing the pandemic, we expect to travel our teams and players via charter flights," Garber said.

An increase in charter flights had previously been agreed as part of the CBA negotiations and Garber said that even after the pandemic that trajectory would continue. 

“It’s important for the players and important for our evolution, the new CBA continues the progression of charter flights that we had agreed to in the past," Garber said. "I can’t tell you when it’s going to go back to the progression we had, I’m hoping we get through the pandemic quickly. Until we do though, we’ll incur the expense of chartering our teams around.”