UTICA, N.Y. - Utica City FC may be returning to the turf before the end of the calendar year.
Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) Commissioner Joshua Schaub provided an update on the status of the 2020-21 season, Friday, indicating that the league has a tentative target start date of December 31.
The league is currently exploring several options during the planning stages of the season, and are also considering various contingency plans in case there are any changes to local and regional regulations for its member teams.
"We have seen a desire from our member teams, and especially our fans, for a return of arena soccer this season," said Schaub. "In that spirit, we are working hard to put together plans for teams to play and to award the Ron Newman Cup in the Spring."
Currently, 15 of the 17 teams, including Utica City FC are still planning to participate in the upcoming season. Earlier in the summer, Mexico-based teams, Monterrey Flash and Soles de Sonora were granted sabbaticals for the year due to coronavirus-related border concerns.
The 2019-20 season was put on pause in March and subsequently cancelled amid the pandemic.
Through a summer of uncertainty, a date to circle on the calendar is a welcome sight for members of UCFC.
"[We're] tremendously excited," said Utica City FC head coach Ryan Hall. "Right now we'd be gearing up in preseason and getting ready for the season opener. So now we at least have a tentative date that I can release to the guys to make sure they're doing their work outside of our training facility to make sure, if it does get the green light, we can bring guys in, especially those not from the Syracuse or Utica area, and hit the ground running and firing on all cylinders."
The league did acknowledge that the start date, format of the season, and teams who participate may still be subject to change as discussions continue.
Should the December 31 start date hold up, it wouldn't be nearly as much of a delay as experienced in the American Hockey League (AHL) or any of the major professional leagues. The MASL season traditionally begins at the end of November or the beginning of December.
Utica City began the 2019-20 season on November 22 and its inaugural campaign in 2018-19 on December 1.
There is still no decision on fan attendance for the upcoming season, that will depend on health guidelines in member team areas at the time of play. However, much like the AHL, the MASL is a gate-driven league, requiring revenue from spectators due to the lack of major TV deals that major sports leagues have.
"I think an overwhelming majority [of teams] are in the same boat as the AHL [teams]," said Hall. We don't have those TV rights, we don't have that extra income coming in. We need fans in the seats at whatever capacity: 25%, 50%, 75%, depending on the state, but we definitely need people in the seats. We're hoping things will slowly get back to normal and we will have some sort of capacity."
Aside for the business aspect, Utica City FC has gained quite the following in its short two-year stint at the Adirondack Bank Center thus far, in the upper echelon of the league in fan attendance both years.
Playing games without spectators in the seats would make, at least home games, very different.
"We play at certain venues where they do the best they can, but by no means is it sold out," said Hall. "You come to the Aud and it's standing room only. It's rocking and rolling, people are screaming, chanting, singing, so it's a huge home field advantage for us."
Utica City FC finished the 2019-20 season at 14-6 overall, tied for second place in the Eastern Division. They were 7-2 at home.
Stay with NEWSChannel 2 for updates on the MASL season plans.