“I think at this point a strike is imminent if we don’t get what we want. And that’s kind of where we stand.”
Those are ominous words from Seattle players’ union representative Brad Evans regarding the labor dispute plaguing Major League Soccer.
With the MLS season set to begin on March 6, Evans thinks things could get really tight up to the deadline, with players standing hard and fast on the major dividing point of free agency.
“If that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes,” Evans says. “But we all have to be smart about it and we’ve all got to look at the repercussions, but we’ve got to know that a lot of players have built this league and feel they should be rewarded with some sort of movement where they play.”
With Major League Soccer build as a single-entity league structure, the league is in full control of player contracts, and thus where players end up. However, players are arguing that because the league is beyond the infancy level, it should be acting like all other major sports leagues, with a franchise structure that allows individual teams to sign players to separate contracts. The league, however, is arguing that free agency will balloon player contracts to a level that the league cannot sustain, thus putting massive financial pressure on the league. To Evans, that’s not a viable end to the means.
“We feel we deserve it now,” Evans said. “We feel we’ve put in another five years of growing this league and especially those that have played in the league for 10 years. We think we should be able to choose where we go,” Evans said. “We don’t want astronomical prices. We understand the economics of it. We’ve had a phenomenal economics team look at where the league stands, where we stand as players, and we want what is fair for everybody.”
The current labor contract expired January 31, and the only way a season can progress is if a new labor deal is negotiated, or if a temporary extension of the old one is agreed upon. The second option doesn’t sound likely, from Evans’ comments. “Right now we’re far off from where we want to be,” he said. “It’s going to take some fighting. It’s going to take some grittiness. It’s going to take everyone staying together, but at the end of the day I hope we can get something resolved.”
When the most recent labor agreement came to a head, the two parties agreed to an extension just five days before the start of the 2010 season, but even then such a controversial and wide-reaching issue wasn’t present then. If the league agrees to free agency, it would likely begin a massive and complete overhaul of the entire league structure.
Major League Soccer issued a simple statement in response, saying, “Although there are a number of open issues, both the league and the union are working hard to reach agreement.”
Other team representatives sounded a similar tune as Evans. One of the DC United player reps, Bobby Boswell, took a step back from the Sounders’ veteran, but still had the same pessimistic views.
“There’s some progress,” Boswell told SoccerWire.com. “We both are optimistic that we can get a deal done. But we have some fundamental issues. We don’t agree with each other on how to get where we want to go. It’s not like [negotiators] are in there yelling at each other. It’s civil, but there are some issues we’re not eye to eye on and we’re pretty far apart on some pretty important stuff.”
The hammer: “We’d like to see more progress … I’m not so sure it gets done in time.”
The other DC United rep, Chris Rolfe, didn’t mention free agency specifically, but heavily hinted that the league refused to even discuss it, and that was making the union instinctively pull back at the table. “While we are making progress on some fronts, there are some things that we as players feel are essential that they’re not even addressing,” Rolfe said, also to SoccerWire. “They aren’t showing us any respect on those issues.”