The Major League Soccer Players Union likely lost their war with ownership just over 30 days ago. The Collective Bargaining Agreement expired yet the players continue to train. The clubs signed players, waived players, and worked players.
The US soccer ecology did not cease. Preseason matches went forward and the players represented MLS in the CONCACAF Champions League. Montreal Impact advanced in glorious fashion. The Canadian and US fans are left wanting more. We are ready. But now with a strike looming we will be punished despite the fans not having a seat at the negotiating table.
Players and clubs have been whistling through the graveyard. As of midnight March 4th, the MLSPU has not updated their Press Release page since October 27, 2014. The most activity regarding the talks came from the players’ road trip to DC for the latest rounds. Ownership had a fine reason to remain silent with a $150K fine over the head of whoever discusses the CBA. If you don’t believe MLS would fine one of their own investors in the single-entity organization then Real Salt Lakes owner, Dell Loy Hansen, would have some choice words for you. He became the first to pony up after calling free agency “one of those real waste-of-time conversations” during an interview on his own radio station KALL ESPN 700 Salt Lake.
Alas, the players are sporting new kits this week in front of fans and media with smiles. You would think these players are not days away from missing a pay check or cheque, depending which side of the border. Fans and media appear more militant than the players at this point. We see the importance of free agency in the top league. The owners see the advantage of not having free agency as a tool to manage labor cost.
The players for all the talk have provided little evidence that they actually care about free agency. Words are easy. Talk is cheap for anyone outside of ownership. To strike a few days before the start of the season is significant, but it involves collateral damage. Especially when the players have done little on their end to sacrifice to avoid missing matches.
The mixed messages is a sign of a scared, poorly organized and immature union and labor force. MLS ownership is experienced in negotiating labor deals with greater stakes, in entities that are actually profitable.
The Player Union’s actions over the last month has demonstrated that legitimate free agency is a dream not a mission. The players will receive a pay raise. The league is expanding and the USL partnership means more jobs for players and when they retire, as coaches. The players have made significant financial gains. Their actions, or lack thereof, show it.
The offer reported by Jeff Carlisle of ESPNFC as of Tuesday evening is a façade of free agency. Players 28 years or older with at least 8 years in the league will be allow to become free agents once their contract ends or option is declined. Besides being massively restrictive to really only benefits those middle-class and journeymen US and Canadian players that go through the college system with no opportunities aboard.
Is it a hopefully first shift toward real reform of the league’s Byzantine contract system? Yes. Nevertheless it is a predictably wide gap. Too wide of a gap for anyone in hoping to see true reform to get enthused about. If your hope is to see the season start on time it might be enough for the players union to accept without conceding defeat.
The players union seem to be getting what they bargained for: a pay raise, more jobs and the façade of free agency for a few. If the players agree to anything short of legitimate and recognizable free agency Dell Loy Hansen will be correct, the conversation was one big waste of time.