Soccer-MLS delays launch of three expansion teams due to COVID-19

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July 17 (Reuters) - Major League Soccer has unveiled a revised expansion timeline with the inaugural seasons for three of its four new teams delayed by a year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The new timeline is the result of the impact of the pandemic on the start of business operations and stadium development, the league said.

Charlotte, originally scheduled to begin playing in the MLS next season, will now make its debut in 2022 while St. Louis and Sacramento will begin in 2023 instead of 2022.

Austin, which announced its formation earlier than the other clubs, remains on schedule to debut in 2021.

"We have always taken a thoughtful and strategic approach to our expansion planning and have delivered successful launches for every new club," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said on Friday.

"It is important for each club to take the necessary time to launch their inaugural MLS seasons the way their fans and communities deserve.

"With the extra year to make up for what has been a challenging 2020, these teams will be well-positioned for their debuts and for long-term success."

The addition of teams in Nashville and Miami this season brought the total number of clubs to 26.

MLS saw its 25th season derailed by the pandemic in mid-March but returned earlier this month with the "MLS Is Back" tournament, which is being played inside a bio-secure "bubble" at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Florida.

(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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