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2021 MLS season guide: How to watch, team previews, betting odds and another


It’s been over four months since the 25th MLS Cup capped the most difficult and unusual season in Major League Soccer’s history. But while COVID-19 is still a major factor in everyday life, the league’s 26th season seems set to (somewhat) resemble a normal campaign. Little by little, crowds will be allowed at many teams’ home venues. An expansion team and three new stadiums will be added to the mix. The teams are well rested — those that didn’t make last year’s playoffs have now been idle for an astonishing five months. All that’s left now is to play the games.

If you’re new to MLS, this guide below may help you get your bearings. There’s broadcast information, betting odds, team outlooks, and links to all of The Athletic’s comprehensive preview stories to get you ready for kickoff. If you’re an MLS expert, chances are you still may learn something. 

Regardless, a happy new season to all.  


Read up

Subscribers to The Athletic can follow MLS as a league or your favorite club to be notified when new coverage posts. You can also follow all of our staff writers and contributors individually: Felipe Cardenas | Chris Kamrani | Joshua Kloke | Joseph Lowery | Pablo Maurer | Matt Pentz | Jeff Rueter | Adam Snavely | Sam Stejskal | Paul Tenorio


Know the basics 

How many teams are there? This year: 27. Next year: 28 (adding Charlotte). The year after: 29 (adding St. Louis). After that? It’ll be 30…eventually.

What’s the schedule like? All 27 clubs will play 34 regular-season matches ― 17 home and 17 away. That’s a refreshingly normal number of games.  

The clubs are split into Western and Eastern Conferences (the West will have 13 teams to the East’s 14). In an effort to cut down on travel amid an ongoing pandemic, teams will largely play against teams in their own conference, with more games against teams closer to them. 

Our writers offered their thoughts on the schedule, including some games to watch, here.

How many teams make the playoffs? The top seven from each conference, so 14 in total. 

What’s up for grabs? The playoffs culminate with MLS Cup – that’s the major trophy and the team that wins it is considered the year’s champion. The team with the best regular-season record is awarded the Supporters’ Shield. Winning either or finishing on top of a conference will earn a team a berth into next year’s CONCACAF Champions League. 

What about the Canadian teams? Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, The league’s three Canada-based teams will play in alternate locations in the United States to start the season, and perhaps longer depending on when those restrictions are lifted or relaxed. CF Montreal will play at Inter Miami’s DRV PNK Stadium, Toronto FC will play at Orlando City’s Exploria Stadium, and the Vancouver Whitecaps will play at Real Salt Lake’s Rio Tinto Stadium. 

Will fans be allowed? Yes, though exactly how many depends on the team and their city’s COVID-19 restrictions. No team will be hosting more than 50 percent of capacity to start the year. 


How to watch

In the United States, every game not broadcast on national TV is available to stream on ESPN+ (though there are local blackout restrictions). MLS’s national deal from years past remains in place, with ESPN, FOX and Univision all broadcasting games. Some teams will get more of the spotlight than others, with Canadian teams in particular being left out of the rotation. 

MLS teams on national TV (U.S.)

TEAM

  

TOT.

  

ABC

  

ESPN/2

  

FOX

  

FS1

  

UNI.

  

UNIM.

  

16

2

4

3

2

3

2

LAFC

16

5

3

3

2

3

14

2

4

1

3

3

1

14

1

5

2

6

ATX

11

3

1

4

1

2

11

2

2

1

4

1

1

10

5

4

1

10

2

2

5

1

SJ

8

1

1

2

4

CLB

7

1

3

1

2

7

3

2

1

1

SKC

7

3

3

1

6

1

2

3

5

1

3

1

5

3

1

1

NYC

5

2

1

1

1

4

3

1

RBNY

4

1

3

3

1

1

1

NSH

3

1

1

1

RSL

3

3

2

2

2

1

1

1

1



Read More:2021 MLS season guide: How to watch, team previews, betting odds and another

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