Saturday, January 24, 2015

CBA: MLS Players Digging in on the Impossible

This past week we saw the unofficial kickoff of labor negotiations between MLS and the Players Union with the players taking the lead in broadcasting their demands via social media and interviews with local and national media.

There are a couple articles to check out if you are wanting to get up to speed quickly: Here in Columbus, Ethan Finlay opened up with Adam Jardy over at the Dispatch and in national News, ESPN FC "No free agency in MLS' proposal for CBA, players' union says."

It really only takes two bullet points to sum up what the MLSPU wants.

• Free Agency (ability for teams to bid, player freedom to move)
• Increased minimum player wage

Free Agency is a tricky one for MLS and the single entity structure. League leadership considers it to be one of the cornerstones in the league's foundation and has defended it in court already (which creates more hurdles). The lack of player choice was made in the early days primary as to prevent what is considered to be the demise of the original NASL --> overspending on players.

While important to the players, the increased minimum player wage seems somewhat secondary to the free agency issue. In a recent interview with the Orlando City Sentinel, Tally Hall (veteran MLS goalkeeper) opened up:

“Disappointing to not have the league recognize when we say that unrestricted free agency is something that needs to be in the new deal. It is something that is hugely important to us. As players we are unified behind this idea that what basically every other soccer league has rights to, we think that we also deserve those rights. We’re very passionate about it. We met in Vegas, the player reps came together, had a meeting and we met all day. And I think we've never been more unified as a group, we've never had a more clear kind of mission. So unrestricted free agency being in the deal is one half, and the other is fair compensation for all players, which is not a surprise to anyone."

Along with Hall, Todd Dunivant and Michael Bradley have recently stated that players are more than ready to bunker for a couple months. Unfortunately, that's probably all they have in them and the operator / investors a very aware of this.

The reason the recent meeting between the two sides was short was because MLS essentially walked into the room, dropped off their proposal and left. Leaving the (inexperienced) union to sort out a response.

In order for players to have more freedom of movement it would take over a year to untangle what exists now. The reality is that it's cute that the players want that but they don't have the resources (both in attorney fees and saved salaries) to make that happen.


So, armed with an interesting week of CBA discussion, here is what might happen:

80% LIKELY: Players hold out from regular season games 6-8 weeks for free agency, get a convoluted, bastardized MLS version of it. Likely involving allocation and only two or three teams being allowed to bid for players. Players would still practice and likely hold a few in stadium events, scrimmages.

50% LIKELY: Players loosen up - aren't unified as season approaches. Rosters remain incomplete, a couple stars transfer out and MLS teams get stomped in CCL matches, training camps uneven because of uncertainty, coaches leave - and they agree to increased wages (something like $50k rookie and increased vet wages). League starts on time

5% LIKELY: The nuclear option. Don't budge on demands, willing to fight in court over freedom of player moment and hold out the entire year. Result would destroy the 'middle class' of MLS players but better players could move to other leagues (regionally or overseas) and the bottom half could head over to NASL or USL Pro. NASL might spring for a couple Wil Trapp type players but only room for a handful. It's also possible that players would take a less sum while negotiations are happening and join in with USL Pro or NPSL affiliates


The players should attack the last %5 option there with everything they have. Soccer has made it in this country. It's made it for sometime and still exists in the US even if MLS isn't operating. Something better would arise in it's place. Only good could come from the players standing together to get more rights. Not just for current players for future guys looking to jump in to MLS.

Soccer in the US would be more appealing to good players currently not in the league and of high value in the prime of their career. For that to happen, MLS's stranglehold on the players and, indeed, the sport, has to be loosened. Even if it requires a few (or even unwinding 20 years of) steps back. One league of 24 or 32 teams is not enough to fill the appetite for the sport in this country.

There are many soccer options out there for every citizen in this country, MLS city or not. Restricting the pro game will just leave more fans, and their money, looking elsewhere.

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