Major League Soccer

MLS Strike Looms

The MLS Players Union is getting ready to strike next Monday if a new collective bargaining agreement is not reached.

A Monday strike would come four days before the 2010 MLS season is supposed to kick off in Seattle with the Sounders facing expansion side Philadelphia Union and increase pressure on Major League Soccer with interest in the sport at an all-time high.

MLS players are prepared to strike if by the league’s May 25 opener. Players are asking for more guaranteed contracts and free-agent rights.

Major League Soccer is a ‘single entity’ league, which has a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) governing player contracts, salaries and legal status. Contracts are owned by the league rather than individual clubs.

The players’ union wants major changes to that structure, which it has called a cartel that restricts freedom of movement. Basically MLS players want the same freedoms as football players around the world. When their contract is up they want to be able to go sign for whoever they want.

John Wolyniec, New York Red Bulls player rep said this on about the Unions position:

“What we’re asking for is reasonable, essentially player rights that most players in the world have. It can be frustrating but we’re still at the table. At the risk of jeopardizing those talks I can’t speak to specifics. Obviously the two sides are still negotiating so you take that as a good sign, but we need an agreement to play.”

The Seattle Sounders Freddie Ljungberg in the Seattle Examiner added:

“Imagine you work at Burger King and you get sacked. Now, you want to get another job at McDonald’s, but you’re not allowed to unless McDonald’s compensates Burger King. It seems absurd, but that’s the way certain things work in MLS at the moment. If your team terminates your contract, it still can demand a trade from another club before you can go and play for that other club.

The CBA, for me personally, is a sad saga. I was told it would be settled when I came back to the USA in January. Now it plays a lot on the minds of players in the preseason because we don’t know if the first game is going to be played on March 25 or not. If it isn’t, it will be a very sad day for players and fans in this country.”

MLS owners see it as bit differently, Sounders majority owner Joe Roth was quoted inTacoma News Tribune as saying:

“From an entertainment standpoint, we haven’t made enough of an imprint on the national psyche… I don’t think there will be a national outcry like with the NFL if somehow we wouldn’t be out there for a year – which would be terrible. Everyone would lose their jobs. We would all lose our franchises. And that would be that.”

While Tim Leiweke of AEG and the Los Angeles Galaxy says:

“Even if it means that we go a year without soccer, so be it. We went a long time without soccer in this country and we”re not going to give up our belief in a system that works. We are unanimous within the owners. We will wait as long as it takes. We will never, ever agree to change the system.”

The quotes by Tim Leiweke and Joe Roth scare the daylights out of me. This is a big year for soccer in the U.S. It is a World Cup year, which means that the casual sports fan in the U.S. will be watching the soccer this summer. MLS has a new team in Philadelphia and anew stadium in New York. MLS cannot afford to be shut down for any period of time.

The Seattle Sounders team is a huge success in Seattle both on an off the field. They have spent months promoting the opening game next week against Philadelphia. If the game is cancelled, the Seattle franchise might reach the heights that is did last year.