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MLS player reps to meet

Union representatives for each of MLS's 16 clubs are tentatively planning to meet in Washington in the coming days to discuss the status of the collective bargaining agreement talks and the possibility of a strike, the Insider was told by multiple sources.

With eight days until the season is scheduled to open with Seattle hosting expansion Philadelphia, the players' union and the league remain at an impasse. Without a new CBA, the players will not begin the season. Free agency within MLS remains at the heart of the dispute. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that, while gains have apparently been made in other areas, MLS will not compromise on free agency.

On the Insider and our Twitter feed, we told you exclusively last week that MLS players had voted almost unanimously (383 to 2) in support of a strike if a deal couldn't be reached.

"There's no way the players are getting free agency -- no way," a source close to both sides said. "These are stubborn owners and they are not going to budge on this one. There is a deal to be done out there, to avoid a strike, but the players have to realize [free agency] is off the table."

Meantime, after gathering in Washington on Tuesday to presumably meet with union leadership and federal mediator George Cohen, MLS representatives are back at league headquarters in New York today. It is unclear whether the sides plan to talk via phone or video conference. Another face-to-face meeting is possible Thursday.

By Steve Goff  |  March 17, 2010; 11:46 AM ET
Categories:  MLS  
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Goff let the player's union know if they need scabs I am available.

Posted by: no_recess | March 17, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Sorry I meant the owners

Posted by: no_recess | March 17, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

This will probably sound dumb, but if they have free agency couldn't the owners take the lost revenue as a loss on their income tax? Surely there is a way.

Posted by: VirginiaFan | March 17, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Can someone please explain to me why free agency is such a major sticking point for the owners if there is a salary cap? I just don't get it.

Posted by: grabowcp | March 17, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Because free agency destroys the single entity structure of the league. And, as an aside, who wants the problems that many Euro leagues are having with teams in such financial trouble? (yes, I know teams here are in financial trouble too, but it's not of the same variety.)

Posted by: nairbsod | March 17, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Who is DCU's union rep?

Posted by: Dynaformer | March 17, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Devon McTavish is the DC player rep.

Posted by: mbyrd28 | March 17, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Free agency just can't exist in single entity.

If the players are calling for full free agency WITHIN single entity then they are fools. MLS can't bid against itself and free agency within single entity would mean players would always be suspicious of whether they are getting "real" offers from the individual clubs. MLS could easily stage the bidding.

Now, if the players mean they want free agency through a complete separation of teams from MLS into individual entities, then they are crazy. It's not within the rights of employees to define the organizational setup of a company. Such a change would not just affect questions of free agency -- they would fundamentally affect the way the whole league operates (including revenue sharing between clubs).

So the players better come up with a proposal, such as an out of contract bidding system, or else they won't be getting anything.

Posted by: hendrix | March 17, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

I don't think that free agency would "destroy" the single entity structure, it would merely be a chink in the armor.

Surely, single corporations can have one branch fire an employee and completely sever ties with that employee only to have another branch hire that employee at a different rate of pay. The hiring branch could simply have different needs or different views on the value of said employee.

The other defense I've heard about not wanting to give free agency is because of the possibility of skyrocketing contract values. But under a salary cap structure, that is simply a ridiculous argument.

Posted by: combedge | March 17, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

"Surely, single corporations can have one branch fire an employee and completely sever ties with that employee only to have another branch hire that employee at a different rate of pay. The hiring branch could simply have different needs or different views on the value of said employee."

Are you serious?

Posted by: nairbsod | March 17, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

I get the players' side of things, and agree with them, but I think it'll be a lot easier to argue free agency in 5 or 10 years when all teams are turning a profit. Right now when most teams lose money, and the league doesn't have a high enough profile, it's just not worth risking a strike.

I mean, if the Premiership or Bundesliga folded, there would be riots. If MLS folds, we'll all be supremely bummed and go on following the soccer we did before MLS happened. And the owners, soccer fans or not, will invest in other places until another league comes around.

I know it feels like they're being disrespected, but it's just the reality right now.

Besides, if I'm someone playing soccer in MLS, but don't have the skills to cut it overseas, I'd really not want to have to find a traditional job in this economy.

Posted by: eadc | March 17, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

"combedge said: Surely, single corporations can have one branch fire an employee and completely sever ties with that employee only to have another branch hire that employee at a different rate of pay. The hiring branch could simply have different needs or different views on the value of said employee."

This can't happen in my company, as all hiring is done through one HR division. If you're fired, you're fired from the whole company. You can't sneak out to LA, apply for a job at the same company, and expect to be hired again (the resume would tip them off anyway).

Similarly, in my company you cannot simply walk up to the boss and say "I'm tired of New York, send me to the LA division immediately." They would laugh. Now, if the LA division needed my services, they could work something out for me... but this already happens in MLS (trades for a 100th round draft pick or whatever).

Now, once someone is fired from a typical corporation like Microsoft, they are free agents to go to Apple, if they want.
Similarly, MLS players are free to leave the MLS company and go play for an NASL team like the Montreal Impact or the Vancouver Whitecaps. Or they are free agents to move to the hundreds of soccer companies around the world (Northampton, Leeds, Manchester United, Newell's Old Boys, Pachuca etc.).

Posted by: hendrix | March 17, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Top work, as always, Steve

Posted by: Kev29 | March 17, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

"Surely, single corporations can have one branch fire an employee and completely sever ties with that employee only to have another branch hire that employee at a different rate of pay. The hiring branch could simply have different needs or different views on the value of said employee."


Pretty much every corporation I have worked for has had a rule that you don't hire someone at one office that was fired from another.

I wonder what kind of workplace you are talking about.

Posted by: scott47a | March 17, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

I posted a link last week to an article that supposed the league may actually have their own reasons for jettisoning the single-entity league-owning the player contracts set-up that exists. The league is trying to get a foreign club or clubs to invest in a new franchise or franchises. Those foreign clubs would only want to participate in such a venture if they owned the player contracts -- so that they could move players around within their own organization. That said, I can understand why the league would want to make this decision on its own terms, rather than have players dictate the terms. However, it's equally true that under a hard salary cap, free agency isn't going to have much impact on finances. If anything, it'll tend to drive down median salaries as higher-level players will have some leverage in talks with their own teams. I suspect his the league's real fear -- because the consequences of that will be the league will be under great pressure to raise the cap and minimum salary levels.

What I would suggest is that players try to negotiate minimum salaries along the lines of other professional sports leagues in this country. First-year salaries would be substantially lower, and salaries would increase for each year of service. Also, the league claims it has offered some alternative to true free agency that would allow for greater movement -- that might be worth exploring, until external circumstances force the league to revisit the single-entity structure. Maybe this isn't the negotiation where the players get their freedom -- get what they can get on other issues, and put off this fight for another day.

Posted by: fischy | March 17, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

I am not a lawyer. Nor do I play one on TV. That said....

Free agency would be a MAJOR blow to the single-entity structure. Here's why:
--a player becomes a free agent.
--no team in MLS offers a higher salary.
--that player takes MLS to court arguing "collusion."
--the presence that MLS is a SINGLE ENTITY (ie: operating as one body, making collective decisions) is de facto proof of collusion.
--using precedents establishing with MLB around collusion, the courts side with the player in this case.

Gang, just look at the courts and the precedents with MLB and tell me why the same thing wouldn't happen with MLS? Now, the least painful remedy would be the courts ordering all MLS owners to pony up additional money and penalties (with the players arguing that a fair wage would be what they get in Europe, where Joe Max Moore went to Everton as a reserve and quadrupled his MLS salary--which was already 6 figures). The worst case scenario would be the courts arguing that single entity perpetuates this problem and orders the breakup of single entity. And then you probably have some potential investors who decide not to enter. Others already in the league who figure: fold the MLS team and just use my stadium as a concert venue and for visiting Mexican teams (ala SUM). And the LAG and NYRB open up their wallets and spend $50 million+ per team (not necessarily WISE spending) while small market clubs like....DCU (small market based on stadium revenue and ownership pockets), FCD, Columbus, KC all subsist on budgets of $2 million per team.

Yeah, that's the ticket (sarcasm).

Posted by: JoeW1 | March 17, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Top work, as always, Steve
Posted by: Kev29

Let them know:

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | March 17, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

If there's a strike, will the players on loan, i.e. Castillo, be given the opportunity to head back to their teams . .

Posted by: delantero | March 17, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

I wonder what kind of workplace you are talking about.
Posted by: scott47a

The government would do that, but we don't have trans-deparmental HR (thankfully) and no intra-govermental non-competition clauses that I'm aware of. We'd just have to go by the resume.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | March 17, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Combedge, you're using the wrong analogy. It's not a company firing you. Imagine if it was an INDUSTRY firing you--you got fired from SAIC and couldn't get a job with Booz Allen Hamilton or ICF or CSC. You could argue discrimination (or in the case of the union, "collusion"). But the reason why that doesn't happen to MLS is b/c it isn't an industry, it's a SINGLE ENTITY. All the MLS teams operate as ONE. Thus, no discrimination or collusion. It's not 16 MLS agreeing not to sign you as an employee, it's MLS (one entity) deciding not to sign you and that decision is binding on all 16 investors (or clubs).

Just as an aside--I think free agency was initially a positive for MLB but has since been a huge negative. Go talk to fans of KC, Pittsburgh, Minnesota and they'll tell you what it's like to be an also-ran every year. When the NE Pats were on their title run, some savvy NFL insiders were saying that it wasn't that the Pats were so good, it's that they were what the NFL used to be--a team with a lot of cohesion, a lot of depth, very sophisticated offense and defense that you could run b/c most of your players where there for lengthy periods (rather than lots of turnover). My interest in Euro soccer is down substantially b/c it's really quite boring (in terms of races). Some have-nots get relegated. A couple of teams at the top of La Liga, Bundesliga, Premiership, dominate. Technique and games are interesting, races are mostl not b/c no-one has a chance. I'm not a fan of free agency.

Posted by: JoeW1 | March 17, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

@hendrix -- I've posted an argument above as to why players might give on this issue for now -- but your post shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the market in this area.

Soccer players cannot simply move to the "hundreds" of other teams. There are defined periods for transfers. MLS roster decision almost invariably fall outside the transfer periods for most leagues around the world. Plus, all soccer teams operate under certain roster size restraints that do not correspond to anything in the outside business world. If you want to bring in someone to play for your team in soccer, someone else will have to be cut loose. The thing is its harder to do in soccer because most leagues have guaranteed contracts -- which may be why the transfer periods exist, allowing for players to be brought in when other players are out of contract.

All of which gets to the point -- why free agency is so important to the MLS players. Their movement is restricted enough outside the league. Plus, they know they're not going to easily land foreign jobs, for a variety of other reasons (related to nationality/visas, languages and talent/style). Restrictions on their movement in MLS mean it will be harder for them to find the right club for them Perhaps, another club would have had a place for Szetela, but DCU did not. So, he was waived. At this point, it's going to be much harder for him to find a new team...especially one that might pay him anything like what he might have been worth in January.

Posted by: fischy | March 17, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

JoeW1, I'm right there with you.

Posted by: nairbsod | March 17, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

MLS has invested years of effort into creating the Single Entity concept even before the league itself was founded. Later, MLS spent millions on legal arguments with the Players Union to ensure they had a solid legal framework that would stand up in court.

I cannot believe the players realisticly expect to establish Free Agency and go after to the very heart of Single Entity.

I'm with the players on guarenteed contracts, increasing salaries, and limits on rights to a player if the team waives him. But Full Free Agency - No Way.

Posted by: dcufan531 | March 17, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

On a lighter note,

Mexico will get the chance to kick the crap out of, er I mean play, England in a Wembley send-off before South Africa.

Can the USSF have SUM authorize some increases in payments to FEMEXFUT in exchange for the legs, knees, or ankles of Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, and Defoe?

Posted by: VirginiaBlueBlood | March 17, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

"MLS teams will no longer maintain the exclusive rights to MLS players when their contracts expire. In the event that a new contract is signed between an 'out of contract' player and MLS, said player will be free to move to an MLS team of his choosing if the team of his choosing agrees to accept his services."

I see no reason such a clause would threaten the league's single entity structure. It simply treats MLS free agents as what they are, employees without a contractual obligation to an MLS franchise.

In practical terms, MLS is a business with offices in multiple cities, and MLS is saying, "You had a contract with us to work in Denver. Now that your contract has expired, we're not going to let you work in Boston unless Boston compensates Denver."

They could simply say, "sure, we're willing to sign another contract with you and send you to Boston. Our office in Boston wants you and our office in Denver doesn't." Legally, this presents no threat to the league's "single entity" status, at least so far as I understand it.

In this scenario, the sequence of "free agency" is quite simple:
1. A player's contract with MLS expires.
2. MLS signs the player to new contract.
3. As part of the new contract, MLS and the player agree to new place of employment.

If the owners oppose such a clause, they must be doing so for a reason other than fear that such a clause would threaten the league's single entity status.

If the players aren't satisfied with this type of clause, they're asking for something they'll never get and, IMHO, wouldn't help their cause. Ending single entity won't guarantee more competition for free agents. Whether teams are part of a single entity or not, players have to assume that teams have an incentive to win and therefore to compete for talent. There's no law saying that teams have to try to be good and win titles, and there never will be.

Posted by: florifischetti | March 17, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

I agree with both: free agency and single entity are basically incompatible, and that eventually the league will have to drop single entity for its own good.

The clubs bringing in the most revenue, and whose local marketing has paid off (Seattle, TFC, we'll see in Philly), are going to be the ones with the best reasons to hate single entity. They also have the most to lose from a strike.

Of course, the original investors have to protect their positions.

An influx of foreign money might be the only way to break up this equation. But if the league is committed to five years with no movement, that money might be harder to come by. Chicken and egg.

Posted by: Godfather_of_Goals | March 17, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

I am far fom knowledgable on this subject but I think what the players really want is the ability to move more freely to higher profile leagues. If this is the case, I totally support them in their endeavor. I remember a couple of years ago when de Rosario was being courted by the epl (can't remember the team). He stood to make about $3 million US and mls would have been paid an undetermined transfer fee. Well, mls held him hostage and he was relegated to earn his crappy mls salary. I think for highly talented/ technical players in both the US and Canada it makes more sense to avoid mls and try their luck in a smaller European league or the championship rather then risk being held hostage by mls. If you look at Americans overseas not named Dempsey or Donovan, most either spent very little time in mls or none at all. For this reason, I think it is in the best interest of mls to let players move overseas more freely. Their success both in mls and in Europe will strengthen international credibility and make the league more profitable. But what do I know?!?

Posted by: papple | March 17, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and just to clarify...a single entity cannot collude with itself. Hence, the wording of my proposal.

Also, I hope to God the owners never agree to guarantee all contracts. THAT would destroy the league.

Posted by: florifischetti | March 17, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

So the 2 no votes were Beckham and...?

Your thoughts.

Posted by: s2car | March 17, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

@papple -- You're right about one thing -- you're not knowledgeable on this subject. MLS players aren't pushing to move more freely to other leagues. Right now, moving abroad is the only aspect of choice they actually have. They don't choose which team they come into MLS with, and they have no right to voluntarily switch teams within MLS.

Regarding going abroad, MLS players do want rights similar to foreign players who get a percentage of the sale/loan proceeds -- but they're not going to the mat for the few MLS players who might actually command a transfer fee.

Posted by: fischy | March 17, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

I've not labored (no pun intended) over every word in the above, but combedge's example, where someone is "fired" by one branch of an organization and hired elsewhere from within the same organization, makes perfect sense if you replace the word "fired" with, say, "laid-off." I mean, it happens all the time, and it's certainly common where I work now. It would be bizarre if, say, my position was eliminated, yet my department had a say in my ability to seek employment elsewhere within the company. MLS players aren't fired (with rare exception); they're released, or their contracts expire. Not at all the same thing.

Posted by: DouginCMH | March 17, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

For everyone jumping on the "fired and hired by different part of the company"....that's a terrible analogy and deconstructing it takes us further from the topic at hand. Waived players in MLS didn't get fired for tardiness or surfing porn at work. They were let go because they weren't talented enough for a particular team or didn't fit into a role in the coach's scheme. However, they may be a perfect fit for another coach or a team with less talent at that players position.

The main crux of the players' argument is that a player who is no longer wanted NOR compensated by team A should be allowed to join team B without team B being forced to compensate team A for that player tha, again, team A no longer wants. Makes logical sense to me. I don't see how that screws up the single entity structure of the league.

Posted by: daandre3 | March 17, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Thanks you, DouginCMH, for stating my argument while I was trying to type it out on an iphone.

Posted by: daandre3 | March 17, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

My prior two positions with my current company were eliminated, but I was free to look for something else where in the same company (or anywhere else for that matter). So.. I'm still here, with 20years of service in this "single entity".

My issue with all of this is my perception is that the players do not have a fair current agreement specifically for those at the bottom end of the roster. Whether it's "free agency" or not, something needs fixin.

Posted by: hhisland | March 17, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Another reason why that analogy fails -- if an MLS player is actually fired -- waived, like Szetela, he is free to seek employment with other teams...and the original team does not get any "compensation" for their loss. The reality is we're talking about players who are wanted in some respect by their team -- at least wanted as a bargaining chip, or as a reserve, or wanted but at lower than market price. Players are seeking the right to have a freer market to find a new team once their contracts expire.

Posted by: fischy | March 17, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

here's the thing that people making direct comparisons to the branches of a company need to remember: MLS is not like most companies in that the branches are not just in cooperation with each other, but run independently of each other and in direct competition with each other in a zero-sum game. the financial burden may be shared in single entity, you get things like the allocation draft, the salary cap, and league owned and paid contracts, but everything else outside that central framework is operated outside the single-entity and designed to foster competition between the branches. everyone may make money or lose money together, but there is a winner every year. one. that was RSL.

the idea that the Denver branch and the Boston branch are going to share talent, and let talent move without compensation is, on the face of it, absurd. the 'branches' as people are calling them are not operated by vice-presidents of the same firm, they are operated by people who don't even work for the firm, and are in direct competition with each other, one can win or both can lose, but both CANNOT win. that makes this different from your average company, where yes, there are winners and losers, but everyone can, in fact, win and much of it is independent from each other. my office hits its sales targets, we win. you hit them, you win, but my hitting them doesn't mean you won't. that direct competition between non-employees of the company (team owners/investors) and the zero-sum nature of it, is why owners won't let this happen

Posted by: joshuaostevens | March 17, 2010 2:29 PM | Report abuse

I figured the two who held out were the two Freddies from Seattle.

Posted by: VirginiaFan | March 17, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Does MLS file one income tax form for the entire league or are they filed individually by team?

Posted by: VirginiaFan | March 17, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Whoever asked about United's player rep got me thinking. What an interesting position our club is in!
1) If I'm not mistaken, just last year, Ben Olsen was our player rep. Now he's management. Wouldn't that be an interesting interview Mr. Goff? How does one switch sides so quickly - where do his views rest on the issues at hand?
2) The entire United coaching staff are former MLS players, I believe. That too has to be unique and put these guys in a bit of a box. What role is the United coaching staff playing to help players understand both sides?
3) Clyde Simms. Wasn't he a scab during the last go round of this? Is he maybe one of the two dissenting votes? His perspective would also be interesting to hear. Why does he support this possible strike but not the last one?

Posted by: dsheon1 | March 17, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

dsheon, Simms was a "scab" when the National team was holding out for bigger bonuses, Arena liked him a lot, and he ended up with United, he had been playing in lower level, USL2, I think.

Also, off topic, and it seems this link is old, but San Jose just got approval for a re-zoning of some land they are purchasing to build their stadium, and this has renderings and a video with some more angles, and I have to say, I give it a big thumbs ups.

Posted by: JacobfromAtlanta-ish | March 17, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse


Simms was one of the "scabs" called into US National Team Camp when the players were threatening the USSF with a strike. Negotiations were settled before a strike, but Bradley or Arena (can't remember who was coaching at the time) was impressed enough with Simms to keep him in camp when the regular guys returned.

Posted by: Kenobi | March 17, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

"Surely, single corporations can have one branch fire an employee and completely sever ties with that employee only to have another branch hire that employee at a different rate of pay. The hiring branch could simply have different needs or different views on the value of said employee."

Are you serious?

Posted by: nairbsod | March 17, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

It's not exactly the same thing, but several years back when Wilco made Yankee Hotel Foxtrot their record label (Reprise) didn't like the album and dismissed them from the label. Wilco then took their album and sold it to another record label (Nonesuch). Nonesuch and Reprise are both subsidiaries of Warner Music.

Posted by: diego_r | March 17, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Who picks the scabs?

Posted by: Reignking | March 17, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

dadryan, Alves is playing...

Posted by: Reignking | March 17, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse


You and I pick the scabs. Wait that sounds gross.

Posted by: no_recess | March 17, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

1) If I'm not mistaken, just last year, Ben Olsen was our player rep. Now he's management. Wouldn't that be an interesting interview Mr. Goff? How does one switch sides so quickly - where do his views rest on the issues at hand?
I'm guessing
his views rest
and will remain
close to his vest . . .

Posted by: OWNTF | March 17, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

What's with all this back-and-forth about how "MLS can't have free agency because it's a single entity"? Absolutely baffling and misguided line of reasoning.

The reason that MLS was established as a single entity-- the SOLE reason-- is to preclude free agency. It's possible to retain single entity and still allow for a players' salary to be determined by what he is worth in the free market of teams (Joshua nicely points out that, in essence, MLS' branches literally compete with each other, unlike other companies).

Posted by: Mastodon_Juan | March 17, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

How can the players of a third or fourth tier sport--Football, Baseball and then Basketball and Hockey--think they can hold a money losing league hostage?? These guys are nuts, plain and simple. The league can and will fold and reincarnate if that's what the ownership wants because the league is losing money. PLEASE don't do something stupid players.

Sign me, a hard core, but rational fan and long time footie player ....

Posted by: lovinliberty | March 17, 2010 9:56 PM | Report abuse

I think increasing the salary cap and roster sizes would mitigate some of the issues with transfers of waived / out-of-contract players.

Given the current salary and roster limits, teams inevitably must let some players go that they may still consider to have talent/value.

However, if a team truly no longer wants a player then they shouldn't be held hostage.

Hopefully the league and players will find an acceptable compromise.

Posted by: DCUfan14 | March 18, 2010 8:56 AM | Report abuse

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