MLS, players closer to CBA deal than you might think

Posted on 21 February 2010 by Nathaniel E. Baker

There’s been a lot of talk these last couple of days about how Major League Soccer players and the league are stuck at an impasse over a new collective bargaining agreement. Players have made noise, on Twitter and in the press, about an all but unbridgeable gap between the two sides. The latest extension to talks is set to expire Feb. 25 and players are talking strike.

Yet therein lies one reason for optimism. The league has backed off talk of a lockout and is in fact prepared to start the season with the current CBA in place. That means if there is a work stoppage, it will have to come from the union. And how prepared are MLS players really for this? “We’ve definitely talked about all possibilities,” Kansas City Wizards defender Jimmy Conrad told ESPN. “And if [a work stoppage] happens, then we’re unified on what we’re passionate about and what we think needs to change. We will stand by that until it does.”

Not exactly fighting words. And for good reason. MLS players really have little leverage, particularly if they need to resort to a strike. At that point it will be very difficult to maintain unity, not to mention higher ground in the court of public opinion.
Yet a strike is exactly what the players need if they are serious about accomplishing their ultimate goal of full free agency, according to The Philly Soccer Page:

Players in every American sports league won free agency by striking or winning lawsuits, but they didn’t play in young leagues in danger of collapse, like MLS. If MLS players strike, soccer fans have other TV options like the EPL, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, and Mexican league.

Some day, when MLS is more established as a major league sports franchise in this country, players can organize their efforts toward obtaining free agency and perhaps even ending the single-entity structure that is MLS. But that day is not now, and players know it. Even Conrad was careful to say they have limited their efforts “to propose things that are within the confines of the single-entity structure.”

Apparently, the league is ready to talk on this level, according to statements made by MLS President Mark Abbott to the Washington Post.

“We have made specific proposals on how to deal with that and in ways that you do not need free agency,” he said. “We may want to bargain with those proposals, but we have made them.”

Gone too is talk about raising the salary cap and increasing the minimum salary in MLS. I’m told the league has made concessions on both issues. Judging by the players’ silence on them, it would appear the union is at least somewhat satisfied.

That leaves guaranteed contracts. And here it appears the players might be overreaching a bit. While it is true that established sports leagues in the U.S. and Europe have guaranteed contracts, not all do. The National Football League does not. NFL players can be cut pretty much on the whim of a team, just like they can in MLS, with one fundamental difference: In the NFL, these players are free to sign with another team, while in MLS the team continues to hold that player’s rights.

But here too the league says it is willing to talk. “We have made a proposal that would guarantee not all, but a significant number of player contracts,” Abbott told the Post. “We have made a proposal limiting the number of unilateral options the league can have in player contracts. We have made proposals in several other areas as well.”

Sure, this could be a bold-faced lie, but so could a lot of things. At this point we have no choice but to take the league at its (public) word on the matter.

Where does that leave the union? Not looking very favorable, if you ask me. Or at the very least out of touch with reality in light of Pat Onstad’s argument that “we’d just be negotiating against ourselves” if players would return to the bargaining table.

Granted Onstad made this statement before Abbott made his. And who knows, maybe one prompted the other. But for all intents and purposes, there really isn’t that much separating the two sides anymore. Expect a deal to be made next week, and announced Friday right when the extended extended CBA is set to expire, for maximum dramatic effect. You heard it here first.

6 Comments For This Post

  1. Jennifer Ramos Says:

    I hope there is an agreement & I hope it's a fair one for both sides. As for MLS fans having other options such as EPL & FMF I can't speak for others but I only watch those when MLS is off season & I'm not nearly as into it as my beloved MLS. It's a shame to hear how so many of the players are underpaid & forced to stay on the team MLS wants them to be on.

    BTW Does anyone know where will Kevin Hartman go now?

  2. mrtuktoyaktuk Says:

    Seems to me that there is room to compromise on salary cap and extending guaranteed contracts. What may be a strike-worthy issue to the players might be the length of the agreement, since so many issues get deferred to the negotiating process. A 5 year CBA would be terrible for the players.

  3. Jennifer Ramos Says:

    I hope there is an agreement & I hope it's a fair one for both sides. As for MLS fans having other options such as EPL & FMF I can't speak for others but I only watch those when MLS is off season & I'm not nearly as into it as my beloved MLS. It's a shame to hear how so many of the players are underpaid & forced to stay on the team MLS wants them to be on.

    BTW Does anyone know where will Kevin Hartman go now?

  4. MrTuktoyaktuk Says:

    Seems to me that there is room to compromise on salary cap and extending guaranteed contracts. What may be a strike-worthy issue to the players might be the length of the agreement, since so many issues get deferred to the negotiating process. A 5 year CBA would be terrible for the players.

  5. Stoixima Says:

    Very informative post. I have already bookmarked your site. I am very lucky today as I have found many interesting blogs. Just before I was at stoixima, which is a webpage about sports. Keep up good work!

  6. christian louboutin Says:

    since so many issues get deferred to the negotiating process. A 5 year CBA would be terrible for the players.

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