Work Stoppage Averted as Players Union, MLS Agree on New CBA

Two days before the players’ strike deadline, and five days before the Major League Soccer season opener, MLS management and players agreed to a new, five-year Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The new pact comes after marathon negotiation sessions on Thursday and Friday, and was announced this afternoon.

Chief among the players’ issues was the lack of free agency in MLS, and though they weren’t granted that outright, there will now be a new ‘Re-Entry Draft’ for players out of contract at the end of a season.

Most details of the new agreement are still to come, but it was also reported that players would receive a marked increase in compensation, as well as a limited number of guaranteed contracts.

The 2010 season will begin on schedule, with next Thursday’s clash in Seattle between the expansion Philadelphia Union and Seattle Sounders FC (ESPN2, 9:30 EST).

More Labor News—and It Continues to Be … Not Yet Good

Ives Galarcep is reporting that the MLS Players Union is gearing up for a strike on Monday, three days before the stated deadline of March 25. If this week’s negotiations don’t yield a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, according to Galarcep’s sources, the players will take to the picket lines following the weekend.

Sigh. We all know how disastrous this would be for the league, on the cusp of its most important season to date, with a new franchise set to begin life in Philadelphia, a dazzling new stadium opening (on Saturday) for the New York franchise, and the World Cup kicking off in June.

But there’s also the question of whether a strike will actually achieve the ends the players want, raised carefully by San Jose Earthquakes investor Lew Wolff in a lengthy, thoughtful, and non-inflammatory statement passed on by Steven Goff at Soccer Insider.

For even more from Galarcep on this issue, click here … and stay tuned.

AEG Boss Leiweke to MLS Players: Strike a Very Bad Idea

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times on Monday, Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) chief executive Tim Leiweke, who was a prime mover in the deal that brought David Beckham to Major League Soccer and whose company owned six MLS clubs at one point, fired a few shots across the bow of the good ship MLSPU, regarding the threat of a strike come March 25.

Some highlights:

“Here’s our issue, and I’m speaking on behalf of AEG. We have spent to the tune of $300 million on soccer. We have spent money on facilities. We at one point owned six of the 10 teams to keep the league alive.”

“I don’t even know how to react when I hear the players now saying that we have treated them poorly and they’re going to strike.”

“There are only a couple of [MLS] teams that will make money this year…. We do this out of passion. If this were a business, we would have quit 10 years ago.”

No MLS players were quoted in the story with any counterpoints, but if they had been, here are some of the things they might* have said:

“I’ve been in the league for all but one year of its existence. I’m the all-time leader in wins among goalkeepers. When my contract with Kansas City expired and we couldn’t come to terms on a new one, I was held in limbo for weeks because we have no free agency within MLS—meaning no other team could sign me without permission from (read: compensation for) the Wizards. They still owned my rights, even though I was out of contract.”Kevin Hartman, FC Dallas

“I made $34,650 last year, and I was an MLS Best XI selection, and got called up to the U.S. national team, twice.”Geoff Cameron, Houston Dynamo.

“I did my best to anchor the San Jose backline last season (not easy), got a call-up from U.S. coach Bob Bradley for my efforts, and a grand total of $20,100 from the league.”Brandon McDonald, San Jose Earthquakes.

Click here for the latest CBA news from Mr. Goff at The Washington Post.

There are eight days to go until the deadline.

*They did not actually say these things, but the information cited is true.

MLS Players Say They’re Ready to Strike; MLS Brass Says Everything’s Fine

League and union representatives held two meetings in Washington, D.C., this week—with federal mediator George H. Cohen making his MLS debut—and though the two sides released a joint statement afterward saying the negotiations would continue, their subsequent public comments on the process were not exactly in synch.

The Washington Post’s Steven Goff reported this afternoon that players have voted almost unanimously (350 to two) to strike if a new CBA is not hammered out before the season opener on March 25. One veteran player told Goff anonymously, “To be quite blunt, it doesn’t look good at all.”

But a few hours later, the league chimed in with a hearty, “Not to worry!” MLS President Mark Abbott told Goff that the sessions under Cohen’s watch “were productive, and we have scheduled a number of additional meetings.” He further said that the players comments “do not accurately” reflect the positive nature of the negotiations.

The we-said, they-said ring of this is depressingly familiar, but the fact that there are more sessions scheduled is undoubtedly positive: To strike, the players would have to abandon the mediation process, and they have not (yet) done that.

MLS, Players Union to meet with Federal Mediator

Is there a breakthrough in sight for the CBA negotiations between Major League Soccer and the Players Union?

The league has announced that it will meet with union reps next week in Washington, D.C., to try to hammer out an agreement with the help of George H. Cohen, Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

Click here for the league announcement, and here for Mr. Cohen’s official bio.

MLS Players to Continue Working—For Now

The Major League Soccer Players Union issued a statement this evening concerning its ongoing labor negotiations with league, saying the current collective bargaining agreement will expire at midnight tonight, but that there will be no strike … yet. Click here for the complete statement.

Major League Soccer responded, saying the Union would not agree to a further extension of the current CBA, but that the league would not lock out the players. Here is that statement

Apparently, there will be further negotiations, though no sessions have been set yet. The league will go forward, and further into limbo, with the season’s opening day four weeks away.

MLS Management, Union, Play Chicken with Looming Work Stoppage

About an hour after Backpost World HQ went dark on Friday with this post about the dearth of news on the MLS CBA talks, members of the MLSPU executive board decided to make some news, taking their grievances to the media in apparent frustration with management’s refusal to budge on the key issues separating the two sides.

Union board member and Houston Dynamo goalkeeper Pat Onstad told Ives Galarcep of and Soccer By Ives, “We feel the league’s not taking us very seriously at all. We’re pretty far apart at this stage. Earlier in January there were some indications that some progress was going to be made, but right now, I think the negotiations are really in a bad place. We’re a long way from getting this deal done.”

This could be part negotiation ploy but, still…yikes. Read the rest of Galarcep’s report here.

Then union board member and Kansas City Wizards defender Jimmy Conrad spoke to Jeff Carlisle of ESPN, saying, among other things, “We feel like we’ve made a huge effort to be reasonable, to propose things that are within the confines of the single-entity structure. At this point they’re not even humoring us with something tangible. If things stay where they are, then it’s inevitable that a work stoppage is going to happen.”

Carlisle’s report, which quotes players suggesting they’re not much interested in attending the meetings scheduled for this week, with the deadline four days away, can be found here.

Major League Soccer management waited about 24 hours, then league president Mark Abbott responded to Galarcep in surprisingly specific fashion:

“Our proposal isn’t just limited to economics,” Abbott said. “We’ve made a proposal to guarantee a significant number of contracts. We’ve made a proposal to limit the number of options, unilateral options, the league has in player contracts.

“There have been some discussions about what happens to a player whose team no longer wants him and how the right of first refusal works. We’ve made proposals on those areas too, to address some of those concerns.”

So that’s the state of things now, with four days remaining, and it goes without saying that neither side can afford a work stoppage of any kind, be it lockout or strike. They have four days to bridge the gap.

MLS Updates

News on the CBA front has been scarce to nonexistent this week, with the deadline looming next Thursday, but here, Pat Martin of the Sports Network argues that players should scotch their demand for guaranteed contracts. Other reports have suggested progress on that particular issue, but we won’t know about their reliability until Feb 25.

There have been some on-field developments this week, most notable of which is the signing of U.S. U-17 star Luis Gil.

Having failed to come to terms with the midfielder before the 2010 MLS draft, the league hammered out a deal with him today, and Gil will be allocated to a team on Monday, through a weighted lottery.

Gil, who had four goals and four assists in 18 international appearances with the U-17s, had drawn interest from Arsenal and Real Madrid. Here’s a snippet of the kid in action for the U-17s (No. 10):

 • In Florida, Toronto FC is giving a pre-season trial to 37-year-old Scot Paul Dickov, late of second-tier English side Derby County, where he scored two goals in 16 appearances this season.

• Red Bull New York announced it would host an international friendly between Turkey and the Czech Republic on May 22nd in its new Red Bull Arena. Related: Brian Straus of AOL Fanhouse toured the new stadium and came away impressed, saying the venue “gets everything right. It will be the continent’s finest soccer stadium when it opens next month…. The New York area has been waiting for a reason to pay attention to its soccer team. It now has one.” Click here for more on his visit.

• Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Landon Donovan, on loan to Premiership side Everton, was voted the Toffees’ Player of the Month for January by the team’s fans. Here’s the story on Everton’s website, where you can also check out photos of Lando’s signing session at the Everton store at Goodison Park. Donovan and MLS alum Tim Howard face Manchester United tomorrow, but they learned today that they’ll do so without attacking midfielder Tim Cahill, who was ruled out with a calf injury. The Toffees are also missing central midfielder Marouane Fellaini, who is scheduled for ankle surgery.

MLS CBA Talks—Still Optimistic, But Clock is Ticking

There hasn’t been a whole lot of hard information reported about the current labor strife in Major League Soccer, and that’s probably a good thing. It indicates that both sides are respecting the process and keeping most of the Collective Bargaining Agreement jockeying behind the closed doors of the negotiating room, and not airing their grievances to the press, or trying to score points in the court of public opinion.

Google ‘Eddie Pope’ and ‘MLS labor talks’ and you’ll find precious little of substance, even though Pope, as the Director of Player Relations for the MLS Players Union, is at the heart of the negotiations. For the reasons cited above, this is a good thing.

Last week’s second postponement of the negotiating deadline (from Feb 12 to Feb 25) was strictly due to weather conditions in Washington, D.C., which has been pounded by snowstorms in the past two weeks. MLS management was unable to travel from New York to D.C. for further talks. As Pope said last week, “We can’t control the weather.”

No, they can’t.  But hopefully players and management can get control of the issues that still stand between them and hammer out an agreement. Assuming they’re working today, a holiday, they’ve got just ten days to do it.

For more on the labor talks, including the primary issues for the players, and some of the economic realities for the league, click here and here, and for team payroll information, try here.

Finally, for Houston keeper and MLPU executive board member Pat Onstad’s recent comments on the matter to CBC SPorts, click here.

Note: All of the linked articles were published before last week’s weather-related postponement of the negotiating deadline.

MLS Updates

Califf is back in MLS, with expansion side Philadelphia.

Catching up on recent MLS developments….

CBA Negotiations Extended

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, MLS and its players union extended the deadline for the new CBA negotiations until Feb. 12. This is obviously positive news and means teams can continue preseason training while the talks continue. There had been a lockout/strike deadline of Feb. 1, today.

It’s probably safe to say that there’s been progress in the negotiations, and that both sides can see the light at the end of the tunnel–they just need more time to get there. (And that light, apparently, is not a train.)

Philadelphia Lands Two U.S. International Defenders

Roughly a week after signing defender Danny Califf, the expansion Union officially announced it had acquired defender Michael Orozco on loan from Mexican side San Luis, a deal which had been rumored for a few weeks.

Califf is 29 and has 22 caps for the U.S. He played for Danish club Midtyjlland last season.

Orozco is 23 and has two caps for the U.S., along with seven for the U.S. U-23s. He played for Union coach Peter Nowak at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Chicago Fire Adds Two Players, Brings a Third On Trial

The Fire lost attackers Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Chris Rolfe along with outside back Gonzalo Segares during the off-season, but they’ve moved quickly to bring in replacements, signing defender Krzysztof Krol on loan from Polish club Jagiellonia Bialystok, and Salvadoran midfielder Julio Martinez on loan from Mexican second division side Club Leon. They’ve also invited former Fulham striker Collins John, 24, to join them at their Phoenix training camp to try to win a spot on the team. John played with Fire striker Brian McBride at Fulham.

Steve Ralston Parts Ways with New England

One of only three MLS Originals still left in the league, Steve Ralston has announced that he will not be returning to the Revolution after eight seasons with the team. Ralston, 36, suffered a severe knee injury last September, and is still recovering. He did not announce his retirement, though, and will explore other options in the coming weeks.