TORONTO, Canada—We are now four days away from a potential Major League Soccer lockout.
Last week on Jan. 29, MLS released a statement providing fans with an update on its current CBA negotiations with its players.
The synopsis? While the league did agree to push back their original Jan. 28 deadline by seven days, not much else has swayed. Instead, with the start of the 2021 season right around the corner and players expected to report to training camp by Feb. 8, added pressure has been put on both parties to reach an agreement by Friday.
“Given the impact of COVID-19 on how clubs will need to operate during preseason, we must finalize an agreement in the coming days in order to provide teams and players adequate time to prepare for the opening of training camps,” the league wrote in a statement. “If we are unable to finalize a new CBA by 11:59 p.m. ET on February 4, the MLS Labor Committee has voted unanimously to authorize the league to terminate the CBA and institute a lockout.”
Of course, we wouldn’t be in this predicament had the league stuck to the
original deal it had signed in June. Instead, commissioner Don Garber and co. decided to activate its “Force Majeure” clause in the CBA as a result of unforeseen circumstances (the pandemic), thus, essentially terminating the existing deal that was set to run through 2025.
All of this despite the fact that many have pointed out that the league did not need to go down this path. Instead, with 2026 World Cup as a focal point, some are reporting that the league is ultimately trying to take advantage of rather unfortunate circumstances by leveraging its current position and strong arming its players into a new deal.
As the deadline for MLS and MLSPA to agree on a CBA approaches, one question stands out: Did the league open talks out of economic necessity or opportunism?— Sam Stejskal (@samstejskal) January 26, 2021
The evidence seems clear. MLS doesn't *need* a new deal. It's only gunning for one because it can. https://t.co/XrhBURgdc5
For what it’s worth, MLS is seeking a two-year extension on the current CBA, which would include the 2026-27 season. By doing this, players would ultimately be taking less money in each season as opposed to receiving their scheduled raises.
“MLS had made a thoughtful, fair and simple proposal to pay players 100% of their compensation in 2021 in exchange for an extension of the CBA for two years through the 2027 season,” wrote the league on Jan. 29. “In our discussions with the MLSPA, we have emphasized the importance of the two-year extension to allow the league and clubs to recover a portion of the losses incurred in 2021 as a result of the pandemic while protecting the long-term health of the League by providing stability which promotes ongoing investment. Importantly, MLS’ proposal does not include structural changes to the CBA and doesn’t seek any additional restrictions on players’ free agency rights during the term.”
However, even with the players (once again) giving in some—agreeing to extend the current CBA by one year through 2026 in exchange for allowing their athletes to enter free agency at a younger age—the league still feels as though the two sides “remain far apart.”
So, with much of this taking place in the court of public opinion—MLS themselves apparently created a Twitter account to provide updates on the negotiations—supporter groups around the league have decided to chime in, penning an open letter to MLS in support of the players.
“In the current circumstances of ongoing Collective Barganing Agreement (CBA) negotiations, the Kings in the North would like to make our position clear: We support the players,” the Toronto FC supporter group wrote.
Fellow TFC die-hards, the Red Patch Boys, echoed their compatriots, writing: “RPB stand with the MLSPA and their desire to return to the pitch this year.”
The Independent Supporters’ Council of North America (ISC) also chimed in with support of the players.
“Only a year after we voiced similar concerns over the treatment of MLS players, and despite the sacrifices they made to play the 2020 season, we are once again compelled to unite in support of our players. The Independent Supporters Council and our members have been following with concern the negotiations that have resulted in MLS owners threatening to lock players out after Thursday, February 4th. With the deadline quickly approaching, it is our duty to make our collective voice heard.
“Major League Soccer, the message from the supporters is simple. Let them play.”
You can read their full open letter to the league here.
It’s safe to say that a work stoppage would be in neither party’s best interest. Be sure to stay tuned to Waking the Red as we’ll have more updates on this developing story throughout the week.