Ian Palmer

The Major League Soccer season kicked off as scheduled on 25th March as the Seattle Sounders shutout the expansion side Philadelphia Union 2-0 at home. However, it took some last minute negotiations by the league and the players’ association to salvage the season. They did this by agreeing to a new five-year collective bargaining agreement just days earlier. The union was ready to strike from 23rd March if a deal couldn’t be worked out.

While it’s difficult to tell if there was a clear winner between the players or owners with the new contract, it’s generally considered the league narrowly averted a major public relations disaster by coming to an agreement. To this extent, the fans are the winners for now.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber and the players’ union executive director Bob Foose met with Federal mediator George H. Cohen of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in several intense meetings that lasted until the wee hours of the mornings to work out a deal.

The league and union only released certain aspects of the new agreement and it looks like both sides were able to negotiate some of the things they were seeking.

One of the main points of negotiation focused on guaranteed contracts for the players, and it appears the union got what they were looking for here. Foose said that based on a player’s age and his years of service, most of them will now receive guaranteed contracts. It was reported that players who are 24 or older and have played for three or more years in the league will have guaranteed deals.

Regarding unilateral contracts, players who are 25 or older and have played at least four years in the MLS, can receive up to two unilateral options written into their contract. The union also made some strides when it came to money as it was revealed the minimum salary for senior players has risen to $40,000 this season, a five per cent increase, and the developmental minimum will head upwards to $31,250.

It was reported that 40 of the league’s 323 players made the $34,000 minimum last season and 12 others only made the developmental minimum of $20,100. The salary cap was also set higher as each team's budget has risen from $2.3M last year to over $2.5M this year. It will then continue to increase at a rate of five per cent each season.

However, when it comes to free agency, another hotly contested topic going into negotiations, the league fared better.

Under the old bargaining agreement, MLS clubs were allowed to retain the rights of players even after their contracts had expired. This was a sore point with the union as it wanted those players to be granted the freedom and rights to negotiate with the other teams in the league. The new agreement will see an annual re-entry draft that allows out-of-contract players to be chosen by the other teams. While it allows for some player movement, it’s still quite restricted.

Garber stated that MLS was launched with the understanding that team owners wouldn’t compete against each other for a player and that internal bidding wars don’t have a place in the league. MLS also kept the right to have the final say when it comes to approving all player contracts in the league. This means the franchises still don’t have complete control when it comes to negotiating their own deals with players.

The league wanted to retain its single-entity system and it appears they have managed to do this. But in the end, it seems that both the players and the league are happy with the outcome of the meetings.


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