Nashville SC will move to the Western Conference for the 2022 season, Major League Soccer announced Friday. The league also confirmed the schedule format for the season, which will feature the traditional 34 match schedule, which will start on February 26, the earliest start in league history. From the full press release:
NEW YORK (November 5, 2021) — Major League Soccer today announced the schedule format and conference alignment for the 2022 MLS season.
To best align with the 2022 international soccer calendar, the MLS regular season will begin earlier than ever before, kicking off on Saturday, Feb. 26, and run through Decision Day, the regular season finale, on Sunday, October 9. Following three consecutive weeks of Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs action, MLS Cup will be played on Saturday, Nov. 5, more than two weeks prior to the start of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar on Nov. 21 and more than a week prior to the player release date on Nov. 14.
Major League soccer also confirmed today that Charlotte FC, set to begin play as Major League Soccer’s 28th team, will compete in the Eastern Conference, while Nashville SC will compete in the Western Conference, resulting in two conferences of 14 teams each.
All teams will play a 34-game regular season – 17 home games, 17 away games – facing each of their conference opponents two times and playing eight non-conference opponents once.
The MLS regular season schedule will consist of all weekend matches with the exception of five, or fewer, midweek matches – targeting one each in May, June and July, and two in August. The midweek match dates for each team will not be scheduled in consecutive weeks.
In observance of the 2022 FIFA calendar, MLS will seek to avoid scheduling matches during the FIFA international windows in March, June or September. Only at a team’s request will MLS consider scheduling a match during the March window, or during the second weekend of the June double window. Teams may not request to play matches during the September window, at the final stretch of the regular season.
The full MLS regular season schedule will be announced later this year.
The move to the West isn’t surprising for Nashville. They started their 2020 expansion season in the West, playing only two matches before the Covid-19 pandemic shut down the league. Nashville was flexed to the Eastern Conference as part of the league’s return to play initiative to reduce travel and continued in the East through the 2021 season. Charlotte FC entering the league means Nashville will move back to the West, at least until 2023, when Saint Louis FC’s entrance could force yet another realignment.
Nashville’s fairgrounds stadium is set to open in mid-May 2022. With a February 26 start date, Nashville could continue to play at Nissan Stadium until their new home opens. It’s also possible that they could open the season with an extended road trip, similar to Portland Timbers, who played their first 12 matches of the year on the road while Providence Park underwent renovations.
Another major league takeaway is that matches will only be played during FIFA International Windows if teams specifically request to play, as well as significantly reducing the amount of midweek matches teams will play. This will reduce the amount of times teams have to play without their best players available, as well as limiting fixture congestion.