Less than 48 hours before the start of the 2015 Major League Soccer (MLS) season and a player strike looming, a new collective bargaining agreement with the Major League Soccer Players Union was agreed upon. The biggest takeaway of the new CBA and arguably biggest breakthrough in MLS history is the creation of free agency for players. MLS players are now eligible for free agency if they are 28 years of age or older and have eight years of playing service in the league.
What? MLS players didn’t have free agency? No, but neither did any of the other major professional sports leagues in their first 20 years of existence. In fact, the other four major professional leagues didn’t achieve free agency in a form similar to this until they existed for over 50 years. Major League Baseball achieved it in 1976 (107 years after founding of the league), the National Football league in 1992 (72 years after founding of the league), the National Hockey League in 1995 (78 years after founding of the league), and the National Basketball League in 1996 (50 years after founding of the league). Although Major League Soccer wasn’t founded until 1993, it only took the league’s owners 22 years to agree to give the players a form of free agency.
Anyone who thought the players could realistically win full free agency before having any sort of limited free agency is out of their mind. This league is still growing and has taken baby steps in regards to player quality, player development, size of television deals, and expanding the league through expansion teams. This league has been built through baby steps and free agency for the players will continue to improve through baby steps.
I believe the players won in regards to free agency because a pandora’s box has been opened, and the free agency limits will begin to decrease with each collective bargaining agreement. The “28/8” rule as it’s already become known as is a decent start, but I’m hoping the next collective bargaining agreement will give the players a less restrictive, but similar form of free agency.
The most ideal situation to me would to allow the players to qualify for free agency if they are 25 years or older or have made “x” amount of appearances for their club over the last five years. This is ideal because it allows all players a chance for free agency while hitting reasonable qualifications. My suggestion for these qualifications is “or” instead of “and” because college players and academy players would be very negatively affected by the rules if they had to qualify under both rules.
Most college seniors and juniors are about 22 years old, so after three years within MLS they would be 25 years old. That’s easy to see and they would obviously qualify through that rule, however if they also had to make a certain amount of appearances over the last five seasons there’s a high chance they would not have played in enough games as they would have only been in the league for three seasons. The opposite scenario would occur for players signed from a team’s academy. If a player signs with the team when he’s 17 or 18 years old, there’s a good chance that he may meet the minimum number of appearances over the five year period, but they would not qualify through the “and” rule because they wouldn’t be 25 years old yet.
These two examples are why I think a “25 or x in five” rule would be ideal for free agency in Major League Soccer.
However, no side won when it comes to the salary cap. The players wanted to increase the cap, the fans wanted to see the cap jump substantially, and obviously the owners and the league wanted the cap to be as small as possible to limit spending on players.
The salary cap itself will rise from $3.1 million to $3.74 million with a 7% increase every year. This means the last year of the CBA will conclude with a salary cap at $4.9 million. This is extremely disappointing to me because I wanted the salary cap to increase to $5 million for the 2015 MLS season and this agreement doesn’t even project the final year of equaling $5 million.
They got what they wished for by limiting the growth on the salary cap, but they certainly didn’t win in my opinion because I believe it’s truly holding the league back.
Commissioner Don Garber has stated many times that he wants Major League Soccer to be a top league in the world by 2020, but Major League Soccer will not move towards those aspirations until the salary cap increases dramatically. It’s simple, if MLS wants the best players, the owners must dig deeper into their pockets and offer more money. Money talks and an increased salary cap will allow teams to attract more quality players and also entice players to stay instead of leaving for more money elsewhere.
Both sides walked away from the negotiating tables feeling they have positive and negative results as both groups are not going to feel 100% about the outcome, but they did what was best for the league. Within 48 hours, the 2015 season was to kick-off in Los Angeles and a new agreement had to be in place. I also doubt the league wanted to risk a strike and have the sellout crowd of 62,510 for the Orlando City-New York City game and watch the potential financial gains from the game go down the drain. Nonetheless, the two sides came together at the last minute possible to ensure we would be watching soccer in 2015.