MLS player strike still looms with CBA agreement yet to be reached

By Keave Tollington – Twitter: @KeaveT

With the beginning of the 2015 MLS season just four days away, the threat of a player strike just won’t go away.

Major League Soccer’s five-year Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) contract came to an end in January, spurring appeals from the MLS Players Union (MLSPU) to introduce free agency and look at various other issues concerning player’s salaries before a new CBA was to be signed.

The MLSPU wants its members to be able to move clubs freely, just like the European leagues allow their players to do. Currently in MLS, if a player’s contract runs out, they remain club property.

An agreement has yet to be reached between the MLSPU and the league and the possibility of a player strike still looms large with just four days to go until the new season gets underway. There was a similar situation in 2010, when a player strike was dodged right at the last minute when MLS compromised and introduced a Re-Draft System.

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The Re-Draft System (which is currently still used) allows players to move on at the end of their contract. However there is no option for multiple bids to be put forward for players which means a player has very little choice on his destination and makes it hard for a good deal for the player to be reached.

MLS have been against free agency for the league since its inception. MLS and the MLSPU have been in talks for several months now and the league appear to be adamant that they won’t budge. But the players also look like they aren’t giving up in the fight for free agency, which leaves the league in a very difficult situation. MLS run a single-entity structure which means they own every single player’s contract.

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Most MLSPU members seem to believe that for the league to become on-par with the European leagues, free agency is essential. However, Real Salt Lake owner Dell Hansen believes that “free agency talks are a waste of time” – a comment in which he is reportedly being fined $150,000 for.

The MLSPU presumably want a system similar to that seen in Europe – players there have more options to get the best contract they can, with the club of their choice. Most of those who are against this argue that ‘free agency’ only really affects ‘free agents’. However as contracts come to an end each season, all players are often left feeling uncertain about their next move and the financial implications it might entail.

Another talking point to come out of the CBA discussions is the pay disparity in MLS. The league’s minimum salary of $36,500 is among the lowest compared to many professional leagues. A handful of stars earn millions each season but the 2014 average salary was $92,000. MLS are more open to compromising over minimum wages and salary caps than they are about free agency. The full extent of MLS pay disparity can be seen here.

It is still unclear whether there will be MLS action this weekend but Nat Borchers told ESPNFC that the MLSPU remain “very hopeful in the next two or three days that we’re going to come up with something that’s a win-win solution.”

Do you think the 2015 MLS season will start on time?


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