TORONTO, Canada—Major League Soccer (MLS) avoided facing its first ever work stoppage Monday afternoon, as the league and its players association (MLSPA) were able to come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that will run through the 2027 season.
The two parties have been negotiating for over the past month or so with talks really intensifying over the last 10 days. Finally on Friday, MLS and MLSPA announced that the two sides had reached a tentative agreement, pending league-wide approval from the players.
That vote took place over the weekend, and Monday afternoon MLSPA released a statement informing the public that the players had indeed voted to ratify amendments to the new CBA, locking a deal into place for (hopefully) the next seven years. Perhaps more importantly, the agreement also put an end to what has been a tense and stressful period for everyone involved during this process.
“The MLS Players Association would like to thank our Executive Board and Bargaining Committee who worked tirelessly over the past six weeks to represent and protect the interest of their teammates,” wrote the MLSPA. “MLS players have made incredible sacrifices and overcome considerable challenges in the past year to continue doing their jobs during a difficult time for all of us. We owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to our player leadership for continuing to guide us through these unprecedented times.”
MLS Commissioner Don Garber echoed that sentiment, thanking MLSPA leadership and the players for “their thoughtful and collaborative approach on the new CBA.”
“We have enormous respect and appreciation for everything the players have done helping build the League and the sport throughout the years, and they’ve gone above and beyond during the pandemic,” said Garber in a press release. “We thank the MLSPA leadership and the players for their thoughtful and collaborative approach on the new CBA. We worked together to address the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on the League, and we appreciate the players’ efforts to develop a CBA that deals with the uncertainty of the pandemic while also providing stability during the next seven years to enable further growth. We look forward to seeing the players on the training field in a few weeks as they begin preparations for the upcoming season.”
What were the changes made to the CBA?
The biggest change in the reworked CBA is that it has now been extended by an additional two years (through Jan. 31, 2028) and that players will now be eligible to become free agents earlier than before starting in 2026.
Under the previous CBA, to be eligible for free agency a player needed to be 24 years old and have five years of service in the league. Beginning in 2026, the eligibility has been expanded to include players who are 24 years old with four years of service in the league.
Players will also be guaranteed their full salary this upcoming season, with improved economic terms for the 2026 and 2027 seasons. There were also tweaks to how the salary budgets and minimum salaries will slide, or, in some cases, increase, over the life of the CBA.
Below is a table showing how the maximum salary budget charge will increase from year-to-year under the new CBA.
The max salary budget charge is the most that a team can pay a player without having to utilize TAM or GAM. Speaking of allocation money, here is the full salary budget breakdown through the 2027 season:
Minimum salaries for players on the senior roster are also set to increase from $81,375 in 2021 to $125,875 in 2027, while minimum salaries for players on reserve roster increase from $63,547 in 2021 to $97,700 in 2024—a significant step in the right direction.
The last tidbit that’s probably worth highlighting is that it appears the “under-22 player initiative” is in tact for the upcoming season. Details about that initiative have not been released, but it’s said to allow clubs (at their own discretion) to sign up three players who are 22 years old or younger on a reduced charge to the club’s salary budget. That’s in addition to three designated players a club is already allowed to sign as the league continues to push towards becoming younger.
When does the season begin?
With a CBA now officially ratified, everyone can now look forward to the 2021 MLS season, which is still technically set to kick off April 3 with players reporting to training camp Feb. 22. However, multiple reports have indicated that it’s likely that the start of training camp (and potentially the start of the season) will be delayed by a few days.
At this time, it’s too difficult to definitively say which side ultimately “won” this deal, but for what it’s worth, the extra leeway in terms of free agency and added money the players received will almost certainly be less than the bigger gains that would have come with a negotiation in 2025 or 2026.