MLS clubs are acting as if the season is going to start on time. Teams are locking up trialists and draft picks to contracts, the Chicago Fire have flown down to LA ahead of their season opener on Friday night, and the Montreal Impact and D.C. United are still alive in CCL play. All of that is promising but what is going on behind closed doors in Washington, D.C. raises plenty of concerns that the season will not start on time.
As of the time or writing the two sides are deep in another session of negotiations after going well in to the early hours of the morning they have been back at it this afternoon. The issue is that at last update the two sides remain far apart on just what it is going to take to get the season started at time.
The best news we have right now is that MLS has moved away from their hard stance that free agency was not something they were willing to bring to the table. If that stance had not changed it would have assured a strike would be taking place as players were clear that without some form of free agency they would not play.
What the MLS has done is reportedly offered free agency for players over 27 that have been in the league for a total of 7 seasons. That is not very many players in the league but it is clearly a step in the right direction considering that their first offer of free agency was one that would have only allowed 1 player to become a free agent after this season.
Now free agency is not the only detail that will need to be worked out but it has been established as the most important one and the main sticking point. The two sides have reportedly agreed on the majority of the smaller issues but as of last night there were still reports of a divide on the salary front.
The two sides will have to come to some sort of resolution in the coming hours as the games this weekend are getting very close. There are three options in that regard which are agreed to a new CBA and begin the season as planned, some form of work stoppage, or the two sides agreeing to play under the terms of the old CBA while they continue to negotiate. There is some hope that the final option could prove to save the opening weekend even if the negotiations cannot.
Reliable sources inside MLS tell me as of now they will play this weekend no labor stoppage for opening weekend.— Tom Veit (@TomVeitTheGM) March 4, 2015
Veit, formerly with the Philadelphia Union, would likely have the right connections to have access to that kind of information so there is a good chance that he is right. It would make sense considering how much positive momentum has been built towards First Kick including Orlando City selling out the Citrus Bowl.
Of course, there remains a chance that the two sides continue to make progress towards a deal and something is agreed to in the coming hours. That could happen sooner than later as players are reportedly set to vote on the latest offer from the league.
The vote could very well fail but at least it would give both sides a clear picture of just how close they are before they head back to the bargaining table. If it is close to passing at least they would know that they only need to make a little more progress to get this done. On the other hand the vote could be massively against the offer which would really deflate the current sense of cautious optimism.
As things continue to unfold we will keep you updated on the latest. For the latest for the outside the scene of the negotiations you can follow Simon Evans on twitter.