MLS players present proposal in hopes of avoiding lockout

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The Major League Soccer Players Association has proposed extending the current collective bargaining agreement with the league through the 2026 season.

The proposal came Thursday as the league and the union faced a midnight deadline after MLS invoked a force majeure clause to reopen negotiations over the CBA, citing ongoing uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.

With its proposal, the union said it hoped to avoid a lockout. The MLS regular season is set to open April 3 with preseason training camps allowed to start on Feb. 22.

“It is our sincere hope that it can be avoided,” the MLSPA said in a statement. “Players are ready to play.”

The league and the players’ union had two difficult negotiations last year – one in February before the start of the season, and a second in June when players took a pay cut in order to resume the 2020 season.

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MLS has said it incurred an estimated $1 billion in losses last year, due in part to lost revenue as a result of the virus.

Earlier this month, MLS proposed paying the players their full salaries this season in exchange for a two-year extension of the current CBA.

The MLSPA proposal would extend it to 2026. The union said the June negotiations already extended the CBA a year to 2025 and that players have already made concessions totaling more than $150 million. By extending the CBA another year, those concessions would reach $200 million, it said.

“Amid a cloud of uncertainty over the 2021 season, players have once again been forced back to the negotiating table. Today, after discussion and approval by the MLSPA Bargaining Committee, a proposal has been presented to MLS that includes a second extension to the current CBA term to include the 2026 season. Coupled with our agreement last June, this proposal will result in over $200 million in economic concessions and the addition of two years to the CBA – one year for each of the years substantially impacted by the pandemic. It will also reduce the impact of revenue sharing that was such a hard-fought gain in the original CBA,” the union said in a statement Thursday.

The proposal would make other changes, including a reduction in the age for free agency eligibility and some restrictions on free agent earnings.

Major League Soccer did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Commissioner Don Garber addressed the league’s proposal in an open letter to fans on Jan. 21.

“The MLS ownership group presented a fair proposal to a very difficult situation that provides the players with 100% of their salaries this year, in return for a two-year extension of the MLS Collective Bargaining Agreement. I’m proud of the solution that our ownership group has presented,” Garber wrote. “The MLS ownership takes the risk and financial losses from the pandemic this year, while protecting the long-term stability of our League by providing an opportunity to earn back some of that financial loss in the future.”

ESPN reported that the league sent a memo to its 27 teams Wednesday to prepare for a possible work stoppage if an agreement could not be reached.

Players across the league echoed the union’s message on Twitter on Thursday, exclaiming they are “ready to play.” Nashville’s Dax McCarty posted: “My personal, very well thought out and articulate statement to (at)MLS: We are ready to play.”

The MLSPA noted the players have already faced health risks as have their families and team staffs because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But it also noted the economic hit on clubs, and said any work stoppage would be “catastrophic for the standing of MLS, both domestically and internationally.