Wednesday, February 24, 2010

MLS Work Stoppage Looming

According to numerous reports, including this latest update from the Washington Post's Soccer Insider, MLS and the Players Union are still far apart on the negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.

The big issues include player free agency, central MLS office control over team y and contracts, and guaranteed contracts, among others. Here's a longer piece detailing some of the issues.

I'm waiting to say more depending on whether there is in fact a strike, but there are a two very clear points here that I imagine most people are in agreement about:

-The players absolutely will have public sympathies here. The owners may have been losing tons of money through the years propping up a fledgling league, but this would be MLS's 15th year. Many players do not make a living wage and MLS simply has ridiculous control over player movement and contracts. The fact that a team can control a player's rights even after they've refused to renew his contract is plainly wrong. Rights appear to be more important than money to the players, and this is something the public can support.

-A work stoppage may not kill the league entirely, especially if it means getting a better CBA, but it would be debilitating to MLS's image. I think everyone understands this. The NBA may be inexorably headed toward a future work stoppage and the NFL has serious CBA problems as well, but MLS probably has the most to lose with a strike. The NBA and so many of its players that surprisingly live paycheck to paycheck may be seriously hurt by a lockout, but when play resumes, arenas will still fill to see LeBron, Kobe and Gilbert Arenas (just kidding). It's a lot more forgiving when you return to see the best players in the world. As for MLS, all I'll have to do is turn to Fox Soccer Channel to see Wayne Rooney or GolTV to see Leo Messi.

A third aspect that hasn't yet been discussed or examined thoroughly is what effect, if any, a work stoppage would have on the US team this summer. In many respects it wouldn't matter as many more key players are in Europe than in years past and as recent friendly results tell us, over-reliance on the current batch of MLS players would be deadly to US hopes. But depth is important, especially with so many key players facing injury recoveries, so the more playing time for potential US players the better. Maybe it means they will be fresher come June, or maybe they will be rustier. But it also means less chances for players to impress Bob Bradley, especially players who are on the fringe and need an extended period of sharpness to convince the manager that those last few spots on the roster should go to them.

I don't know anyone who wants a work stoppage as a means of correcting the current imbalances in the CBA, so let's hope the players and owners see the light in the next 48 hours.

I have one suggestion -- bring in Jesse Jackson. He seems like he can negotiate anything. And if the owners and players can't stand Jesse, well, that's at least something they can agree on and that's a good start.

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