The clock is starting to approach midnight for both sides involved in the negotiations of the new MLS Collective Bargaining Agreement. The two parties remain far apart on the key issues and even the presence of a mediator in the room has not been enough to bring things towards a resolution.
With the League and the Player's Union only managing to resolve the minor issues so far it is starting to look more and more likely that no new deal will be in place by the end of the week. That will leave the players with a pair of choices; to let the season begin while negotiations continue or to officially go on strike.
If a strike is going to happen it could begin in the coming days as players have made it clear that they want to wait until the last minute before resorting to a strike. That minute is nearly here now so fans will soon find out whether all the talk of striking over free agency was anything more than just talk and if the players are ready to back it up and walk away from their pay cheques for a period of time.
While a strike might not be in the short-term best interest of either the players or the league the players would be doing it for the long-term gain that they feel increased salaries and free agency would bring. For the league it appears that maintaining the security of single entity and keeping costs down remain the long term goals. The issue will be finding a common ground between the two sets of goals.
There is at least one party that might benefit from a short strike at the start of the season and that is Toronto FC. While a lengthy strike would almost certainly lead to the schedule being reworked to ensure some balance a short one could just mean each team losing the same number of matches from the start of their year.
Why would this be of benefit to TFC? Well, they have that daunting 7 game road trip to start the season while the renovations of BMO Field are completed. If the season were to be shortened by a single month (ending the first week of April) it would mean losing more than half of that road trip from the schedule including some tricky trips to Vancouver and Real Salt Lake as well as games against the Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire.
While most teams in the league would be losing 2 home games and 2 away games in that one month scenario there is no other team that would lose 4 away games. Of the projected top three teams in the east (Columbus, DC United, New England) the Revs would see the next most benefit as they could potentially lose 3 away games and 2 home games from their busy first month including a trip to Seattle.
What if the strike lasts longer? Well, once again no one would lose as many road games as Toronto FC. Push it out to a two month strike (first week of May) as suddenly that entire 7 game road trip is gone and the season is getting started just in time for TFC to get back in to BMO for their home opener on May 10th.
It would be a bit of a dream scenario for Toronto FC and would mean having to put a very large asterisk on the season. TFC would be losing 7 games from a 34 game season which would be the same as every other club (most do play 8 in the first two months) but the key part would be that they are losing 7 of their 17 road games or a massive 41%. It would leave them with a completely unbalanced schedule with 63% of their games being played at home.
Any strike that goes longer than two months would almost certainly mean the league having to draw up some form of a new schedule for a condensed season. There is also a chance that they would do this for any strike that impacts more than a few weeks of the season. The league would want to keep some sense of balance in the schedule but making any major changes would be easier said then done considering they would have to work around the schedules of other tenants in some shared facilities as well as with the major networks who have a say in the timing of games.
The easiest thing the league could do after any strike is leave the schedule as in tact as they can and just remove or add a game or two to a couple of team's schedule to ensure that each club is at least playing the same number of games prior to the playoffs. Anything else would mean a lot of work for league HQ considering it takes them months to work out the original schedule.
This is by no means meant to say that Toronto FC fans should be rooting for a strike to chop off the first month of two of the season but what we can conclude is that if that does happen there is no club in the league that could benefit more for such a strike that TFC would. It really would leave them with a very soft schedule over the summer months.
There is one draw back to this scenario for TFC though and that is the potential impact of the Gold Cup on a shortened season. TFC are set to lose two key players and potentially a handful of depth players during the event which could mean losing Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley for as many as 4 games assuming they join camp a few days before the event starts and the US reaches the semifinal stage. In a 34 game schedule one bad month would have less impact than it would in any form of shortened year.
On the whole, the best case scenario is that the League and the Player's Union come to a compromise that sees the salary cap increase with the base salary rising up significantly as well as some form of modified free agency being included but if the only way to make that happen is a strike at least we can all sleep soundly at night knowing that TFC are in a great position to reap the most benefits from any length of strike.