Negotiations between Major League Soccer and its players union over a new collective bargaining agreement have gone to extra time. But there were signs Wednesday that a deal might be reached in time to prevent a walkout that would cancel this weekend’s season opener.
The sides reportedly remain divided over the two most contentious issues – pay and free agency – after three days of marathon talks with federal arbitrators in Washington, D.C. But rather than leave the negotiating table Tuesday night as scheduled, league and union officials continued to meet into the early hours of Wednesday.
A few hours later, players with the Chicago Fire passed through security at O’Hare Airport and prepared to board their flight to Southern California for Friday’s game with the defending champion Galaxy. The game is the first on the MLS schedule this season and there were reports the Fire would delay their travel west if a strike appeared likely.
Neither the league nor the union has said publicly what the sticking points are but ESPN reported Tuesday that MLS was prepared to make concessions on free agency, offering it to players who are at least 28 years old and have eight years in MLS. That is significant because the union has, for months, said it would strike rather than accept an agreement without free agency while the league had said its single-entity business structure prevented free agency.
It was unclear, however, what progress had been made on compensation issues. The players want to see a sizable rise in the league-mandated salary cap of $3.1 million, not including designated players, as well as a rise in the minimum wage for the last players on the roster. There also seemed to be disagreement over the length of the CBA. The league wants an eight-year deal, the union wants to go no longer than five years.
The last CBA was finalized just five days before the opening games of the 2010 season, averting a threatened strike.