The 26th Major League Soccer season kicks off Friday with a 13-game slate across three days.
The national television slate includes the defending MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew hosting the 2020 Supporters' Shield winners, the Philadelphia Union (Sunday, 5:30 p.m. ET on FS1) and the MLS Cup runner-up Seattle Sounders hosting Minnesota United (Friday, 9:30 p.m. on FS1). Expansion team Austin FC plays Saturday in its inaugural game against Los Angeles FC (6 p.m., FOX). David Beckham's Inter Miami CF hosts the LA Galaxy on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, ABC).
Here is what you need to know for the opening weekend of the 2021 MLS season:
Gyasi Zardes led the MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew in goals scored in 2020. (Photo: Greg Bartram, USA TODAY Sports)
MLS game of the week
Columbus Crew vs. Philadelphia Union (Sunday, 5:30 p.m. ET, FS1) – Two of the three strongest teams in the Eastern Conference will go head-to-head at Historic Crew Stadium on Saturday. Defending MLS Cup champion Columbus hosts Philadelphia, the reigning Supporters’ Shield winner, which is awarded to the team with the league’s best regular-season record. The Crew bolstered its attack in the offseason, signing two veteran free agents: MLS's No. 6 all-time goal-scoring leader, Bradley Wright-Phillips, as well as speedy winger Kevin Molino. Philadelphia’s Kacper Przybylko and Sergio Santos return, alongside Alejandro Bedoya, to help continue its success from one year ago.
MLS player to watch
Alan Pulido – Sporting Kansas City’s star center forward began the 2020 season scoring in three of his first four matches. Startled by a brief injury and the truncated season caused by COVID-19, the Mexican national team forward could return to this sufficient scoring rhythm in 2021, when Kansas City begins its season Saturday against the New York Red Bulls (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+).
What is this weekend's MLS schedule?
(All times Eastern. ABC/ESPN games available to be streamed on Watch ESPN; FOX games on FOX Sports Live. Games also available on fuboTV.)
- Houston Dynamo vs. San Jose Earthquakes (8 p.m., ESPN+)
- Seattle Sounders vs. Minnesota United (9:30 p.m., FS1)
- CF Montreal vs. Toronto FC (2 p.m., ESPN+)
- Orlando City vs. Atlanta United (3 p.m., UniMas, TUDN)
- Los Angeles FC vs. Austin FC (6 p.m., FOX)
- DC United vs. New York City FC (8 p.m., ESPN+)
- FC Dallas vs. Colorado Rapids (8 p.m., ESPN+)
- New York Red Bulls vs. Sporting Kansas City (8 p.m., ESPN+)
- Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution (8:30 p.m., ESPN+)
- Nashville SC vs. FC Cincinnati (8:30 p.m., ESPN+)
- Inter Miami CF vs. Los Angeles Galaxy (3 p.m., ABC)
- Columbus Crew vs. Philadelphia Union (5:30 p.m., FS1)
- Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Portland Timbers (10 p.m., ESPN+)
David Beckham's Inter Miami CF opens its second season against his former team, the Los Angeles Galaxy. (Photo: Michael Reaves, Getty Images)
MLS news and notes
MLS welcomes Austin FC: The league kicks off its 26th season with a 13-game opening-weekend slate, including a national TV appearance by the newest team, Austin FC. Austin FC becomes the 27th MLS team; the league will get to 29 in the next couple years as Charlotte FC (2022) and St. Louis City SC (2023) join MLS. Austin FC gets its baptism by fire against a preseason MLS Cup favorite, Los Angeles FC, on Saturday.
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY: 'Austin finally has a team that allows us to root for our city'
Defending champs reload: The reigning MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew added to an already strong roster during the offseason, and enters the season aiming to become the league's first repeat champion since the Los Angeles Galaxy won back-to-back MLS Cups in 2011-12. However, repeating is a tall order in a league designed for absolute parity.
Seattle's playoff stalwart: The MLS Cup runner-up Seattle Sounders enter 2021 looking to add to its MLS record for consecutive postseason appearances, which currently stands at 12. The team has never missed the playoffs since entering the league in 2009, and has the second longest active postseason streak in major U.S. men's pro sports behind the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins (14) and ahead of MLB's Los Angeles Dodgers (8), NBA's Houston Rockets (8) and NFL's Kansas City Chiefs (6).
Additional concussion substitutions: MLS is participating in a FIFA pilot program that allows teams up to two additional substitutes for concussions or suspected concussions each game. These substitutions are in addition to the five substitutions that are already allowed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic (typically, teams are allowed three subs per game).
MLS 2021 STORYLINES: Columbus Crew take aim at title defense, expansion team Austin FC debuts
MLS top 10 power poll
1. Columbus Crew SC – The champions deserve the top spot until proven otherwise. The scary news for the rest of the league is that the Crew improved the roster in the offseason, adding a few weapons while keeping together most of the roster. A new stadium opens in July.
2. Seattle Sounders – The Sounders are always in the thick of the MLS race, coming off their fourth MLS Cup final in five years. The injury to Jordan Morris gives the rest of the Western Conference an opportunity to overtake Seattle. The pressure is on Raúl Ruidíaz and Nicolás Lodeiro to score goals in Morris’ absence.
3. Los Angeles FC – Led by Carlos Vela, Los Angeles FC were disappointing in 2020, finishing seventh in the Western Conference. A run to the Concacaf Champions League final after the season propelled LAFC towards the front of the pack heading into the 2021 season.
4. Philadelphia Union – Philadelphia should be brimming with confidence heading into 2021 after winning the Supporters' Shield in 2020. It was the club’s first ever trophy. Philadelphia achieved those heights by trusting young talent. Can the club contend without Brenden Aaronson and Mark McKenzie? Both were sold to clubs in Europe.
5. Sporting Kansas City – SKC finished first in the Western Conference in 2020, finishing its 21-match regular season with 12 wins, six losses and three draws. The club retained most its offensive production from last year, and even managed to add to its defense in the offseason.
6. Portland Timbers – Veteran stalwarts Diego Chara and Diego Valeri lead a talented roster with enough depth to push Seattle and LAFC through the 34-match season. The Timbers added an MLS is Back Tournament championship to the trophy case in 2020, and are currently competing in the Concacaf Champions League.
7. Toronto FC – A new era arrived in Toronto with Chris Armas taking over as head coach for Greg Vanney. But the roster is recognizable with veterans Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Omar Gonzalez back to lead the squad. Toronto finished second in the Eastern Conference in 2021, but were bounced out of the playoffs in the first round.
8. Orlando City SC – Orlando surprised the league in 2020 when head coach Oscar Pareja’s squad overachieved en route to a fourth-place finish in the Eastern Conference. It was the best finish in club history. Nani remains the star player as he enters his third season in the MLS, but Mauricio Pereyra might be the biggest difference maker currently on the roster.
9. Minnesota United – The United knocked Sporting Kansas City out of the 2020 playoffs before losing to Seattle in the Western Conference finals. Led by the midseason addition of Emanuel Reynoso, it was the club’s best season in MLS. Reynosa recorded a goal and seven assists in three playoff games.
10. New York City FC – NYCFC must find a way to replace Ronald Matarrita and Alex Ring to return to the playoffs and threaten the Eastern Conference. One way to do that is to keep Maximiliano Moralez healthy. The veteran was limited to 10 starts in 2020.
Others receiving votes: Atlanta United, Nashville SC, New England Revolution
USA TODAY Sports Network MLS top 10 power poll voters: Pat Brennan, Cincinnati Enquirer; Mike Craven, Austin American-Statesman; Drake Hills, The Tennessean; Jacob Myers, The Columbus Dispatch.
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