MLS 2022 regular season will start and end early to accommodate World Cup

With the start of a first-ever winter World Cup looming next November, Major League Soccer will squeeze its 34-game regular season into 32 weeks in 2022, beginning in late February and ending in early October.

With a 28th team joining the league in Charlotte, N.C., MLS will go back to balanced 14-team conference tables, sending Nashville from the East to the West. That will make travel for the Western teams even more arduous by expanding the conference nearly 600 miles east, with Vancouver and Nashville separated by nearly 2,600 miles.

The longest road trip in the Eastern Conference, from Montreal to Miami, is less than 1,700 miles and the majority of those teams are within a two-hour flight from New York City. Only one East team is located outside the Eastern time zone.

All 28 teams will face their 13 conference opponents twice, home and away, and play eight of the 14 teams from the other conference. Most matches will be played on the weekend with no more than five midweek games, one each in May, June and July, and two in August.

The 2022 regular season will kick off Feb. 26, the earliest start date in league history, and finish Oct. 9. With this year’s MLS Cup to be played Dec. 11, the coming offseason will be among the shortest in history for the two finalists.

The 2022 MLS Cup final will be played Nov. 5, nine days ahead of the mandatory release date for national team players and nine days before the World Cup in begins in Qatar. The full MLS regular-season schedule will be announced later this year.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.