There may not have been any bombshells at MLS Commissioner Don Garber’s 2020 State of the League Address, but there was certainly one newsworthy piece for fans of the Boys in Gold.
After beginning the 2020 season as a member of the Western Conference, Nashville SC shifted to the East in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. In 2021, they’ll stay put, with at least one more season in the East before additional expansion shifts the landscape again.
“I can’t speak for the long-term future, but they will play in the Eastern Conference next season,” Garber said in response to a question from The Tennessean‘s Drake Hills.
Austin FC will join as the league’s 27th franchise in 2021, giving the Eastern Conference the 14 teams it finished the season with, as the West swells to 13 clubs. In 2022, Charlotte FC will join the league, possibly pushing Nashville back into the West to create two 14-team conferences. Sacramento Republic and St. Louis FC both join in 2023, and would likely make Nashville’s long-term future settled in the East.
There’s no guarantee that the league would prioritize moving Nashville, however. Certainly there are caveats as it relates to the ongoing pandemic, but the East had two more squads than the West this season, for example. The four closest clubs to Nashville – Atlanta, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Chicago – are all in the Eastern Conference as the league stands today.
Nashville finished seventh in the Eastern Conference in 2020, advancing to the conference semifinal round of the MLS Cup Playoffs, beating fellow expansion team Inter Miami CF and reigning MLS runners-up Toronto FC along the way, before falling to Columbus Crew 2-0 on the road.
The 2021 MLS season is still on track for an early-to-mid March start, per Garber. However, the state of the coronavirus pandemic as vaccines near market-readiness can always impact that timeline.