If Major League Soccer can’t come to an agreement with its players regarding a new collective bargaining agreement by March 23, the MLSPU has said it will strike.
This potentially devastating development could spell the beginning of the end for a league that is still trying to secure its place in America’s sports pantheon.
A strike during this, a World Cup year, would effectively cancel out any momentum the National Team could bring to the sport’s popularity here with a strong showing in South Africa. MLS cannot afford to lose credibility in the eyes of the fans and consumers if it hopes to survive into the future.
“It’s something that everyone needs to realize that this thing being positive for the players in the end is positive for the league, which in the end is positive for the owners,” said Seattle Sounders FC’s Peter Vagenas, about to begin his 11th MLS season. “Because quite frankly the rest of the world looks at some of the rules and regulations we abide by and it sort of adds to the stereotype of this league not being top quality.”
When the old deal was signed, the players made some concessions for the good of the fledgling league. Now, with MLS expanding into new markets and seemingly on surer footing than in the past, the players say that it’s time to get those concessions back.
“I understand where the league was coming from five, 10 years ago when it was up against the wall if we were going to still have a league,” said veteran goalkeeper Kasey Keller of Seattle Sounders FC. “That’s now no longer the case and some of the things they were able to get away with just can’t happen anymore.”
The players want a larger salary cap and for the league to conform to the same FIFA regulations as the rest of the world regarding contracts, and I would like to see those things as well. However, the players must be realistic about the state of the league. MLS has improved dramatically in terms of overall viability and on-field product since its debut in 1993; improved, but by no means arrived.
There is still a long way to go until the league can be considered completely stable.
A strike now benefits no one.
While I do think that tying up players for four years initially is a bit heavy-handed, I can also appreciate the league’s position. Let’s face it, without such contracts, what chance does MLS stand of keeping its top young talent out of the wealthier and more prestigious European leagues and maintaining a level of quality on the pitch?
That doesn’t mean that the league will be able to remain a single-entity league forever, but I don’t think MLS has outgrown its baby clothes just yet.
That being said, the two sides must find common ground on the issues that separate them, and not let the situation degenerate any further.