Possible Strike in the MLS: Momentum killer for MLS?

Negotiations are taking place this week with a mediator between the MLS Players Union and Major League Soccer to sign a new Collective Bargining Agreement (CBA). These negotiations are hinging on one big talking point: Free Agency.

Who is to blame? 

The MLS owners (damn control freaks) have always been known to want 100% control of this league and the players; this is no more apparent than the following sentiment.

 “that Free Agency is a go nowhere conversation and a waste of time.”

–RSL Owner Dell Loy Hansen (during a radio interview with Real Salt Lake ESPN 700).

Why is Free Agency Important? 

MLS players want to have control of where their career goes; who they play for; and the ability to negotiate a higher wage.  Currently, the only caste who can pick and choose (and negotiate a contract) which team to play are international players (often foreign talent) who are labelled with he Designated Player (DP) status.

In the last CBA, it was agreed to create the Re-Entry Draft. This has not been successful, mainly as it has not been a useful resource that the teams use to fill their roster. Foreign players (or Americans playing over seas) offers plug and play talent; this talent can be paid for at a premium but not count against the salary due to the DP status.

Secondly, teh MLS still controls player movement as it is draft and the player can only negotiate with the team that drafted them.  This is reminiscent of the old Major League Baseball reserve clause, which was deemed restriction of trade.

Why can’t MLS players get Free Agency? 

Free Agency is what the players are fighting for and have always been fighting for in each CBA negotiations. Unfortunately for the players, the MLS is technically a single entity company and according to the courts and owners, because they are a single entity the players aren’t able to negotiate with other teams since they are the same owners, MLS.

But this CBA around could be different.

As the MLS continues to grow, and more money pours into the league, the idea of the MLS of being a single entity is slowly disappearing. It started with David Beckham and the league needing a big name player, but couldn’t technically afford him due to salary cap restrictions. The MLS rushed to append their rules creating a Designated Player (DP) status where now the team owner could pay for the player.

The DP has reduced the burden of the MLS, moving it to the owners. With the DP status, bigger names and more exposure has come to the MLS.  The MlS is getting notiriety throughout world, and at home soccer specific stadiums to fund the big name draws.

 Worst case

The worst thing that the MLS Players Union could do is take the league to court arguing that they are not a single entity. This could destroy the momentum the league.  There is so much good will and a burgeoning of interest and talent coming into the MLS, that attendance and viewer ratings have soared in recent years.

However, the compulsive owners have their own perspective. With free agency players’ salaries could become higher with bidding wars between MLS teams and the world market. These increased player salaries would decrease owner control and threaten the stability of the league.

The owners have so far agreed to have a bigger salary cap, but still don’t want to give up that control. Not knowing where this could lead makes the owners hesitant.

Unfortunately, this foresight could turn fans away as it has for MLB ll in 1994, the NBA in 1998, and the NHL (the many times they have done so in the last 20 years).   Fans have lasting memories, and their disposable income could easily be spent on other past-times.


MLS Commissioner, Don Garber has always talked about cultivating a competitive league to help the growth of the sport in America. With free agency on the table this would allow the bigger market teams to have higher profile rosters.

As the season is readily approaching, we as Sounder fans hope that these two sides come together to help continue to the growth of the league and not bring it to screeching halt.  A strike would not be good for either side as MLS continues to gain ground not only here in America, but in the world.

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