Will MLS players go on strike this week?

MLS will begin their 20th season on Friday. At least that’s the case if you have only been following MLS on social media and only read mlssoccer.com. It looks like Kevin Bacon from Animal House is working for MLS because “all is well” over there and there’s hardly any indication that there’s a major labor dispute currently between the League and the MLS Players Union.

MLS and the Players Union are currently in negotiations for a new CBA. The main sticking point is free agency. After 20 years, the Players Union want free agency and have said on multiple occasions that they are willing to strike if they don’t get free agency. MLS will not give up free agency because they do not want to give up their single entity status which they feel contributes to the stability of MLS. While MLS is willing to raise the salary cap, the Players Union will not budge on having some sort of free agency. Both sides have agreed to hire a mediator to help with negotiations but experts have placed odds off starting the season on time at 50/50 (best case scenario).

No one knows what will happen over the next few days but there are some important things to remember in terms of figuring out what will happen.

1) MLS has told teams to come up with some open dates just in case the season is delayed and games need to be rescheduled.

2) Chicago vs. Los Angeles is the first game of the season Friday night. If the game happens, Chicago will likely travel Wednesday night. A decision must be made, one way or another, by Wednesday because Chicago needs to know if there is a game to be played.

3) According to DC United’s Bobby Boswell, he said that the Players Union has “made concessions on key issues.” Boswell said, “Our question now is, are they going to make any back toward us? The jury is still out on that one.”

I honestly don’t know whether or not there will actually be a strike. I’m like everyone else and waiting patiently for news and hoping for the best. Here’s what I do know. A strike is something that neither side can afford. The players, at least most of them, literally cannot afford it and MLS can’t afford it because they will lose any and all growth they have had over the years. Both risk preventing any future growth for American soccer.

MLS seems to believe they are one of the “big four” sports and they feel that they can survive a strike without many serious consequences. The “big four” has the power because they are “the only game in town” and if there’s no NFL, there’s no football at all. If the Players Union go on strike, MLS won’t have the leverage to keep the fans on their side. The poor ratings the League already barely gets will plummet and we’ll all be watching other soccer leagues both domestically and internationally in order to sustain our soccer “fix.” Also, I saw this posted today by the MLS Twitter page.

So I know at least 60,000 fans who would be pissed off if a strike keeps this from being played this weekend, especially when it doesn’t even look like there’s anything wrong from the League.

MLS also has to be realistic. I understand that the League has to keep some things close the vest and not give in on everything but compared to the last time the CBA was negotiated, this league has an incredible amount of money coming in. Back in 2011, the last time the CBA was negotiated, there were only 18 teams. Now, teams 19 and 20 enter with 21 and 22 on the way with a goal of 24 by 2020 and all (except for David Beckham’s Miami team), paying upwards of $100 million each in expansion fees. That plus $60 million a year in TV rights now compared to next to nothing in 2011 and MLS clearly has a lot more money now than they did four years ago.

Also, if there is a salary cap, salaries aren’t going to automatically skyrocket if there’s free agency. That’s the entire point of a salary cap. A salary cap of $5 million is a salary cap of $5 million. It’s not like everyone who is making $50k is all of a sudden going to get $200k because of free agency. The salary cap will still be a way to control spending in MLS so the League doesn’t go in the way of the 70’s NASL. The Players Union just wants to have more of a choice in where they go play. There is a lot of middle ground between what MLS wants and what the Players Union want. If you want to talk the talk and show fans this three times a day for the past couple weeks, walk the walk and make sure we start this season on time.

You as a league have been advertising this, advertising 60k people in the Citrus Bowl, advertising new TV deals both in the US and in England and not even mentioning the remote possibility of a strike. It would be a PR disaster as well as mortgaging the future growth of American soccer to advertise all this and not be able to start your landmark 20th season on time. Do the right thing, work with the Players Union and meet in the middle with some form of free agency. You will only screw over the diehard fans who have been with MLS through thick and thin if there is a work stoppage.

As far as the Players Union is concerned, I have an idea that can help you get what you want. Hire Landon Donovan to negotiate on your behalf. I’m obviously being sarcastic here but based off of MLS’ teenage like crush over Donovan last year, it would seem as if they would do anything for LD. Heck, if Donovan was able to get MLS to have Boys II Men and Five for Fighting perform for Donovan last year, they may actually give in to everything that the Players Union wants if Landon was doing the talking.

(Washington Post)

About Phillip Bupp

News editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing, highlight consultant for Major League Soccer as well as a freelance writer for hire. Opinions are my own but feel free to agree with them. Follow me on Twitter @phillipbupp

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