MLS Future In Question As Negotiations Continue


Joe Nuxoll

With negotiations still up in the air, MLS fans are beginning to fear a lost season.

For the second time in five years, the future of Major League Soccer (MLS) is in jeopardy as the league’s offseason closes out.

The best thing an offseason can bring fans is the hope and excitement of a fresh start for the team. The worst is the possibility of the team not having a season. Right now, this is the case for MLS fans.

Currently, the players union is negotiating with the league for a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). While there are several issues that need to be agreed on, two issues stand out the most: salaries and free agency.

Under the previous agreement between the league and the union, the minimum salary for some players was below $40,000. The players union argues that this is amount is too low considering the speed in which the league is growing.

Meanwhile, the league says they lost over $100 million last season alone and does not want to raise the minimum salary. They believe that as the league continues to grow, so will the salary cap in Major League Soccer.

The other issue is free agency for players in the league.

Despite being a professional league in the United States, the MLS is the only league with no free agency for their players. This means that players have no say in which team they wish to play for, no matter how many years they have played in the league. This particular rule was implemented when the league was formed in 1995. It currently states that player contracts are directly with the league, not the individual franchise. It is a single-entity business structure and the league owners refuse to change their mind about keeping that the standard in the league.

This is not the first time the players union and league have had a dispute over free agency and contract details. In 2010, a deal was signed in the final hour of negotiations. It was the very same deal that is now expired and being renegotiated. While that CBA got the players a bit more money and guaranteed contracts, it didn’t fully address the issues that caused the impasse,  hence the problem has resurfaced five years later.

The difference now is that if there is no new contract by the deadline, March 6, when the season begins, it could affect the entire league’s future. The players have threatened to strike which could be seriously detrimental to the exposure and popularity they’ve helped build in recent seasons. Being that it is still a relatively new professional league in the U.S., the MLS is still growing in popularity and often competing for attention within sports media coverage. There is baseball, hockey, basketball and football coverage year round, and on the nation’s biggest networks. A strike could set the league even further back.

Should the players union and league not come to an agreement, and the players strike, the only thing soccer fans will have is the continued questioning of the future of professional soccer in America.