MLS avoids strike, reaches unexpected deal

Less than 24 hours after 18 of 19 Major League Soccer clubs voted in favor of a strike, the MLS players union and owners reached an agreement in principle on the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement that will last through the 2019 season.

MLS commissioner Don Garber commented on the new deal in a press release:

“We are pleased to finalize the framework for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with our players. We now enter our 20th season with enormous momentum with our new television partnerships, dynamic star players from the U.S., Canada and abroad, and two new expansion teams in New York City and Orlando that will debut in front of more than 60,000 fans on Sunday in the Citrus Bowl.  This agreement will provide a platform for our players, ownership and management to work together to help build Major League Soccer into one of the great soccer leagues in the world.”

The primary issue throughout the negotiations had been the addition of free agency, with players weary of the current system which binds them to their clubs and redistributes out of contract players through a series of waiver drafts. The players union threatened to strike without the addition of free agency, as the owners remained opposed.

The two parties ultimately came to a compromise Tuesday evening, both agreeing to a restricted form of free agency, one that will apply to players 28 years of age or older, who have been with the same club for the last eight seasons.

Restricted free agency will affect around 15 percent of the league’s current players, but is a significant R to the owners’ previous offer, calling for players to be at least 32 years old and have 10 years experience with the same team in order to become eligible for free agency.

Though restricted, it appears to be a step in the right direction for the players, who for the first time have the ability to choose where they play.

The compromise was wholly unexpected, and has left some MLS players angered with their union reps decision to agree to the deal. Ives Garlecep reported that just days removed from having only one team opposed to a strike, the clubs voted 12 to 7 in favor of the new labor agreement, with one union rep reportedly voting for despite his teams wishes to vote against. A veteran MLS player, among others, is quoted in the Garlecep piece:

“An absolute disgrace. We have been talking about this for over a year, staying united and this what we came up with? We caved in under pressure. Some of the guys at the negotiating table had personal agendas. Granted, some of those issues would not necessarily benefit us older players, but it will have been HUGE for the sport in this country. It would have benefited future MLSers and the current young player. But instead, we failed miserably once again.”

Sports Illustrated quoted an anonymous player who said:

“Players are disappointed and upset with the union reps and Bob Foose (MLS Players Union executive director). Not only did this deal destroy the future of the American player, it barely helps the current group of players.”

Should a player become a free agent, his next contract cannot exceed 125 percent of the previous contract if the player made less than $100,000, 120 percent if they made between $100,000-$200,000 and 115 percent if they made over $200,000, according to the Orlando Sentinel. This eliminates potential bidding wars that could price out smaller market teams, something that heavily benefits the league.

Additionally, minimum player salaries were raised from $36,500 to $60,000 per year. The salary cap will also increase 15 percent, around $3.5 million versus the $3.1 million mark set in 2014, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

The MLS with start its 20th season on time, when defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy host the Chicago Fire Friday at 7:00 p.m..

The San Jose Earthquakes will open their season at FC Dallas on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California. The Quakes will open Avaya Stadium on March 22, hosting the Chicago Fire in a nationally-televised game.


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