MLS officials sent a message to its players today. The league owners rejected every single request from the Players’ Union for free agency in the MLS. I wrote a little while back about how the league needed to decide which direction it would head in. As of right now, it seems like the owners are going to stand firm and resist all change. Unfortunately for American soccer fans, it is looking more and more likely that a work stoppage is coming for MLS.
After this complete dismissal of the players’ proposal for free agency, I would not even remotely surprised to see a strike. The athletes might not get to set all of the rules for how the league runs, but they were blatantly disrespected by the owners’ response. Steven Goff reported that the owners offered one proposal to the players, only one. And the offer was ridiculous. The owners were willing to grant free agency to players who met a very specific set of essentially unachievable requirements. Players over the age of 32 would be able to become free agents under this proposal, assuming he had player at least 10 years for his club. Those specifications are absurd in just about any sport, but even more so with soccer based on how frequently players switch clubs.
This proposal was nothing more than throwing fuel on the fire for the owners. They did not take the demand for free agency seriously and insulted the players in the counter offer. The quote now floating around for an unnamed MLS insider underlines the owner’s resistance. “It is shocking. [It is] almost as if owners want a work stoppage. They view players as incidental to MLS’ growth.” (Via Bleacher Report). Any professional sports league unwilling to recognize that the players are the driving force of the success is doomed for failure. Clearly, there is tension between the players and owners and it is highly unlikely they will be resolved before Friday’s scheduled kickoff for the new season.
This is going to stunt the growth and popularity of MLS big time. Coming off of one of the most exciting World Cups in recent memory, a large number of the members of the US Men’s National team coming to play domestically this year and two brand new expansion franchise set to feature some of the world’s biggest stars, this was supposed to be a huge year for MLS. If the league fails to deliver at all, or experiences a drawn out ordeal, fans will turn away feeling betrayed. All of the pent up excitement will die out as American’s once again look elsewhere to find their sporting fix. If the league fails to understand the gravity this season holds for its further development, then it is only a matter of time before the wheels fall off.
I have made the point already that the league needs to choose a direction to head in for the coming season. They have all of these plans for expansion through 2020 but if MLS is unable to find a way to accommodate players and get them on the field then all of that future expansion is for naught. Sure, the players might be acting a little selfish and focusing on their best interests, but they are the ones out on the pitch every week. They also understand how important this season could be to the next step in growth for the MLS popularity. They comprehend how vital they are to making that all happen so they are going to fight for what they want.
There might still be a couple of days but mark my words: MLS will not be ready to kickoff by Friday. It might only take another week or so past there, limiting the damage and missed games, but there is no way that the league will find an agreeable solution in time. For fans of MLS, this comes as a major disappointment. The reality is that the league needs this season to happen. It cannot afford to lose the season to a strike. The players have the majority of the leverage. Soon enough, MLS will have to fold. My guess is that by the end of next week we will see some sort of tentative agreement in place. It likely won’t solve everything, more just act as a band aid to get the season up and running. The owners sent one message. The players will likely send one back: we are willing to wait. The ball is in your court MLS, and the clock is ticking.