MLS Players Plan To Strike if No Deal By March 25

With just over two weeks before the MLS season is scheduled to kick off, the posturing has officially begun between the league and players union. Word funneled out earlier in the week that the players have decided that they will strike if a deal is not brokered before March 25. And how can you blame them, really? The league and union seem diametrically opposed to free agency, and negotiations through mediator George H. Cohen seem to have the two sides still deadlocked. ↵

↵MLS has repeatedly offered to extend the recently expired collective bargaining agreement to ensure there will be a start to the 2010 season, but, per the Washington Post, the union isn't on board with that plan: ↵

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↵⇥MLS players have voted overwhelmingly in favor of a strike if a collective bargaining agreement with the league is not reached in time for the season openers in two weeks, the Insider has learned. ↵⇥

↵⇥In a written vote, more than 350 players supported a strike and only two opposed it, a source close to the situation said. ↵⇥

↵⇥

↵⇥"We will not start the season without a new agreement," said a veteran player, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the negotiations. "To be quite blunt, it doesn't look good at all." ↵⇥

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↵By and large, this entire feud has remained amicable and relatively out of the press, but that's obviously starting to change. Toronto FC defender Nick Garcia came out this week and told CBC Sports that a strike would be eminent if a deal isn't made soon. Actually, Garcia was rather candid about his thoughts on the negotiations, saying, "Don [Garber] said he didn't want it to come down to the last hour to do things, but we've been at the table with all of our cards out for the league to see and we don't feel that they've shown us their hand," while indicating that the players have gone "more than half-way" and suggesting that the league hasn't taken the union's proposals seriously. ↵

↵The league office, perhaps forced by Garcia's comments and the news that all but two players voted for a potential strike, fired back through the press late yesterday. A statement from league president Mark Abbott, per Brian Lewis at the New York Post, reads in part: ↵

↵
↵⇥“We have an understanding with the Union and the mediator that we will not publicly discuss what takes places during these bargaining sessions. ↵⇥

↵⇥“As such, we were disappointed to see comments from a number of players characterizing the status of the negotiations and the possibility of a strike. ↵⇥

↵⇥

↵⇥“The meetings this week were productive and we have scheduled a number of additional meetings. And while we can’t discuss what occurs across the bargaining table, we do believe that the players’ comments do not accurately reflect the proposals that we have made to address the players’ concerns or the productive nature of the discussions between MLS and the Players Union.” ↵⇥

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↵Let's loosely translate that statement as, "we're not talking about this with the media, but whatever they said, we would say the opposite. You know, if we were talking. Which we're not." ↵

↵It all comes down – still – to player contracts and free agency. Will future contracts be owned by the teams or by the league, and how freely can players move from one team to the next if they are released or their contract expires? That issue may be more complicated than we know, as MLS has been looking into international clubs to fund MLS teams, making MLS a de-facto farm system for some of the larger European franchises. But who owns the players, per this report at Soccer Lens, has turned some teams away, and put a wrinkle in the entire negotiation process. ↵

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↵It should all work out, and likely this latest back-and-forth in the press is nothing more than the natural progression of a negotiation nearing the 11th hour. The previously imposed deadlines meant nothing, and both the league and union knew that when they twice extended those dates. Even the latest non-extension was an extension as soon as both sides agreed to continue to work toward a deal in good faith and not devolve into a lockout or strike. But all along, the real deadline has been March 25, and one is hard pressed to believe something will not be agreed upon by that date. It really helps no one if there is a work stoppage: not the league, not the players and especially not American soccer, heading into the World Cup. The clock is ticking, but there's still plenty of time. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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