MLS Labor Dispute – Players Up The Ante

If you thought that MLS and its players union had until March 25 to avert a work stoppage and get a new collective bargaining agreement done, the timetable has moved up a bit.

Multiple reports, quoting sources close to the investigation, have stated that the players will strike on Monday, March 22, if a new deal isn’t done.

Talks are still ongoing in our nation’s capital, and Landon Donovan is going to jet over to participate in the discussions.

While he agrees with some of the things AEG CEO Time Leiweke said Wednesday, his comments echo the other sounbites coming from the players’ side of the table in recent days.

“There are realities to the business that we’re in and unfortunately for too long the business has been one-sided,” Donovan told ESPN. “We need basic rights if we’re going to continue playing. We want rights that are afforded to other players in other countries around the world that we don’t have here.”

His tone is a little more, well, olive-branchy than some of the other quotes we’ve seen.

“Tim more than anybody has put his neck on the line for this league and for players in our league but what was not accurate was all the talk of how much money is affecting this,” Donovan said. “I think we’ve made it clear from the beginning that we’re not into the idea of bankrupting the league and asking for tons of monetary increases. We just want basic rights other players around the world get.”

The owners are amping up the rhetoric as well.

Real Salt Lake owner Dave Checketts weighed in on the debate in the Salt Lake Tribune today.

He said a strike would be “absolutely devastating” and added that, “I don’t know how Major League Soccer survives it, to be honest. It’s that serious.

“If we don’t play this year. It’s not going to be in anybody’s best interest.”

That’s something that everyone can agree on.

43 thoughts on “MLS Labor Dispute – Players Up The Ante”

  1. We all know the labor dispute is a big story, but would it be too much to ask to get a little coverage on the only MLS team to have played a meaningful game this season? I mean, the Columbus Crew did come very close to making history last night, but I wouldn’t even know there was an MLS team in the Champions League reading MLS Talk. Instead the last two weeks have all been the same retread stories/comments about labor, Landon Donovan, the TV wars, Eurosnobs, and on and on and on…I guess if Hou/Sea/NY/LA or any other “big market/great soccer community” were in the competition maybe this site would take notice and actually cover it!

    1. I completely agree with you, CrewFan. The Toluca/Crew game was incredibly exciting and came down to the end. As a fan of U.S. Soccer, I wanted the Crew to advance in this competition. It’s sad that the bloggers on this site either didn’t watch the game or didn’t find the time to write an article on it. The mainstream press ignores the CONCACAF Champions League (expected), but apparently so do American soccer fans (sadly also expected)…

        1. do you mean the one that says “From CONCACAF’s Champions League Website” right under the pic, so indeed no one “blogged” about it they just copied from another site

      1. I agree that more people should care…but it’s because MLS and the Crew don’t do a good enough job promoting the competition as a big deal. Ask any casual soccer fan, and they have no clue what the Champions League is, which is a shame because the two legs between the Crew and Toluca were outstanding to watch.

        Looks like someone read the comments because, voila, a Crew article appears on MLS Talk! Granted it’s taken from the CONCACAF website, but hey, you gotta start somewhere! Let’s hope if the labor dispute gets settled, MLS Talk doesn’t keep forgetting about the little team from CBus who’s won the last two Supporters Shields and an MLS Cup in the last 2 years!

      2. You are preaching to the choir, CrewFan does care.

        Plus you can’t call 4,400 pathetic ( my word for it ) if you don’t care yourself…kind of puts you in with the pathetic bunch.

    2. It’s done, and it is a good story. Of course, people would have showed up at the game in Seattle, but that’s not nice to mention.

      It is a good story for any MLS team – almost winning in Mexico despite a league that imposes mediocrity on them to randomize domestic league match outcomes. It’s also been told quite a few times over the last decade and a half.

  2. In the words of a wise man, “Eight-year olds, dude!” Both sides are acting like little kids, posturing and waging a PR war, even though both sides are well aware that a strike will be devasating.
    I would like to wish luck to Nick Garcia finding a team in Sweden’s 8th tier of professional soccer. Heck, I wouldn’t have the guy on my co-ed six-a-side intramural team…
    I also want to wish luck to the Red Bulls, and to the other owners who have invested millions in building state of the art soccer-specific stadiums as it appears that those venues will only be used for concerts.
    Sound minds must prevail and an agreement must be signed by the end of tomorrow.
    If not, both sides will take their share of the blame for destroying a promising young league which has the potential of becoming a real major league not only in the realm of American sports, but in comparison to other top football leagues around the world.

  3. The owners are full of crap. MLS is making money, and with Portland and Vancouver coming into town in the PNW soon, Seattle’s huge crowds are going to be on caravan every time their boys travel for a close-by game.

    At best, they should be arguing in favor of earned free agency that was pitched on MLStalk a while back. You pay your dues, you get to choose.

    1. Good Lord. What is it going to take to make some of you realize that FREE AGENCY THREATENS THE LEAGUE’S SINGLE-ENTITY EXISTENCE?

      This is not a matter of the owners being stingy or cruel. It has nothing to do with whether or not the league is “making money,” and whether they’re lying about it.

      It is simply about the league’s legal ability to function as a single entity, which is the model the league was founded on, the one that investors have invested in, and the one that continues to attract expansion teams.

      Anybody who doesn’t understand this by now is not worth listening to. That doesn’t mean you can’t make arguments against single entity. It doesn’t mean you can’t make arguments that free agency is perfectly compatible with single entity. But it does mean you should stop wasting everyone’s time with opinions that aren’t even relevant to the issue.

      1. Yeah, but then who would we vilify?

        Actually, what exactly does “single-entity” mean anyway? Or I should probably ask, what are the defining characteristics of a single entity as opposed to the big four?

        1. Single-entity status provides legal protection. It shields MLS from antitrust laws, among other things, thus serving to make soccer a “safer” option for investors than it would be otherwise.

          It also helps MLS avoid the fate of the NASL — sorry, the old NASL (see why it was stupid to resurrect the name?) — by allowing the business to grow in a more careful, regulated way.

          Love it or hate it, it is what MLS is. It is the very nature of the league. It’s what investors have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into. And free agency is a threat to it, opening up MLS to certain kinds of litigation and thus threatening the league’s existence.

          This is why owners resist it, and this is why it’s never going to happen. It would be like a strippers’ union demanding the “right” to work fully clothed — it’s a non-starter, because it undercuts the company’s very nature of being.

        2. Sorry, just realized I didn’t answer one of your questions, about the defining characteristics of a single entity.

          The short version: It’s simply a term that distinguishes the league’s structure from that of other sports leagues. MLS is a single company, with branches such as “Dynamo,” “Galaxy,” “Crew,” etc. That is different from, say, MLB, in which “Yankees” and “Cardinals” are themselves separate companies.

          When MLS was started, it chose not to go this MLB route, because the lessons of the NASL showed that first-division soccer was too vulnerable under such a system.

          In essence, the players union is asking for something that would FUNDAMENTALLY alter what the league was designed to be. If the strippers example above is not enough, try this one: It would be like me being a guest in your hotel, demanding that you convert your hotel to condominiums. You’d laugh at me — and basically, that’s what MLS is doing right now to the players union.

  4. With a salary cap in place, and players not asking for its removal, whats the big deal about free agency? It won’t increase salaries (because of the cap), it will just spread the money already going to players around differently than before.

    I say keep a cap, let the players who have played in X amount of MLS matches choose where they play when they go out of contract.

    Is there something else going on that I don’t know about?

    1. The cap is a byproduct of the closed league. Open leagues don’t need to impose mediocrity on their clubs. Relegation takes care of those who can’t maintain support – instead of setting caps for top clubs that the least supported clubs can reach.

      If MLS is going to keep running this closed league mockery, why not give up first division status, and withdraw from international play? If their model is so sound, it should function just fine all by itself.

      Instead, let’s see how it works for clubs who want to grow to be the best they can be, and stop using it as an entitlement to MLS.

    2. “whats the big deal about free agency? ”

      It threatens the league’s single-entity legal status. This has been explained ad nauseam at this point.

  5. You know why MLS is treated the way it’s treated. Instead of signing some unknown brazilians or argentinians, they sign a 35 year old Ze Roberto, how sad is that…..

  6. MLS won’t promote the Champions League because it’s a competition that highlights the fact that MLS sides lose to teams from small Central American and Carribean leagues.

    If more US soccer fans realized that the product they were being force-fed was rubbish, they may start asking why. That would not be good for the owners of MLS “operating liscenses” or whatever it is that they own.

        1. You forgot to mention that LA didn’t have to leave California for any of the games! At least that wasn’t as bad as when DC United won. I don’t even think they ever left their stadium for any games.

  7. It’s important to note that this league adopted a handicapped business model in which they would apply to every club, for as long as it takes for American fans to give up hope for change and cry uncle.

    They are more than prepared to hold out for a season. They’ll lose less money that way.

  8. With all due respect to Oscar and the rest of the posting idiots that claim MLS makes money, here is the deal:

    Each of you personally guarantee any losses attributed to the new CBA, and I will get the MLS owners to sign off on this, provided you have a net worth that supports the guarantee…..

    Oh, wait that can’t happen, now , can it?

  9. You are 100% on target, there, Stevo. Not that it will do any good: online soccer forums are full of 14-year-olds who think they know how the world works, but who don’t have a freaking clue.

    You are powerless against the “logic” of someone who just took a hit off his bong, who “knows” that “MLS is making money”. How can you argue against that? The Dude has seen the celestial MLS account books in the sky, and he knows.

    The instant these people start to offer to pay for the building of SSS, fund youth academies, and the like, not to mention paying for increased salaries, etc., is the instant that serious people should start listening to them.

    1. The MLS owners refuse to open their books to the players union or a third party. That tells you everything you really need to know about how they are “losing money.”

      Some of you folks on here are really gullible.

      1. Hey, David

        You must have just come out of hibernation deep down in a very dark cave. The issue has nothing to do with owners opening their books. Another cliffhanger…… the owners have no obligation to share their profits, to the degree the have any, with the players.

        Bottom line however, if you spent even a minimalist amount of time researching MLS, you would know this is not a profitable venture.


        1. I know plenty about collective bargaining under US labor law, and specifically the issues being negotiated re: the MLS CBA.

          Nobody said the owners are “obligated” to do anything, so stop making stuff up.

          I’ll type this again slowly so you can better understand:

          The owners’ primary argument against allowing a more open system of player movement is that the league’s finances are not strong enough at this point in time. However, they refuse to allow their contention to be verified by the union or a third party. There is only one reason why they would refuse to open up their books.

          Some friendly advice to you: when you’re negotiating a multi-million dollar business transaction and the other side says “Trust us! You don’t need to look at the books!” you’re about to get hosed.

        2. The only way to know if MLS is “profitable” or not is to look at their books. Since you haven’t done that, you really don’t know what you’re talking about; you’re just repeating stuff you read somewhere.

          And nobody said the owners were “obligated” to do anything, so stop making stuff up.

          Some friendly advice: next time you’re negotiating a multi-million dollar transaction or acquisition, ask to see the relevant documentation; if they refuse, walk away. “Trust us” is usually code for “bend over.”

          1. Here is some friendlier advice:

            The players are involved in labor contract discussions, not a business transaction or acquisition where property changes ownership hands.

            The players have no right to look at the books, they are mere pawns in this entertainment industry. Until and when they are attractive enough to create fan participation (meaning revenues), then they have little leverage to negotiate anything.

            The only leverage they have is a work stoppage, which is a threat that could hurt the billionaire boy’s club and could possible stop the players from ever having a DivisionI league to play for the next generation.

            And David, unless you are working as legal counsel for the players, you know less than plenty about what is on the table, you only know what the press has leaked out.

            And since you really don’t know, some of these fine teams are owned by public corporations. While the books are consolidated, if you are a shareholder, you can ask for more background information.


        3. Stevo – coincidentally, MLS has no obligation to provide us the best soccer, and little incentive to do so, after USSF sold the farm to get them to put MLS on the books so that we could host the World Cup in ’94.

          If the league isn’t profitable, why are cut throat billionaire and hyperconservative investors like Phil Anschutz in this league at all? Why does he have his lackey go out and tell the world that they’re ready to close down the league for a year before they acquiesce to something as universally accepted as free agency? Because he’s a massive soccer fan? Out of the kindness of his heart? Is MLS a secret 501 C3?

          1. Actually, MLS would be a public 501(c)(3), but the billionare boys club would like to turn a profit on this someday.

            Anschutz is in the league because he has a passion for the game, is willing to lose some money (he would call it an investment) so that he can make some money in the future.

            And with labor contracts, this is all about posturing against the other side, hence the mis-information…

  10. I am neither a smart lawyer type, nor do I know anything about contracts and labor disputes. What I do know is that those of us fans of MLS (the few, the proud, the growing) feel like this could be the worst possible time for a work stoppage. The world cup is this summer, which will at least put soccer on the minds of even the most casual ESPN watcher, the league has some new beautiful soccer stadiums, and there are 3 huge opportunities to gain new fans through the expansion teams over the next year. I really don’t care WHO doesn’t get their way! I just want to cheer on my favorite players and teams! It’s just made me sick to see this thing drag on, when we have showed pretty well in CONCACAF champions league, when highlights are being shown on sportscenter, and when we’ve got players who will be ON the US men’s team for the world cup! Come on, players! Come on, owners! Get it together! The season awaits…

    1. I appreciate your sentiment, I really do.

      We are asked to believe SO much by this league. They say “just wait, let us build some small stadiums, and try to fill them” then they limit the crowds of well supported clubs like Seattle.

      Leo – if you care about CCL – at some point you will acknowledge that MLS policies not only handicap every club in that competition from the league level, they are a slap in the face.

      I know this argument can seem esoteric – but MLS is exploiting the game, for the sake of their business model, and experimenting with the most tightly regulated sports business model in history to squeeze a tiny profit out of it, while protecting their other sports from it, keeping lower division clubs in their place, and protecting their sports and entertainment empires from the open league model in which it thrives.

      I live near Red Rocks. It’s certainly one of the coolest places to see a band, and can be a deciding factor on whether I do see a given band. But, if the same company that owned Red Rocks owned owned all bands, and imposed strict spending limits on each, and controlled their income, in exchange for guaranteeing their existence? No venue would be good enough for that tripe. This cart is so far in front of the horse, you couldn’t see the horse from the cart. We can do better, if we let go of the inferiority complex they assign to us.

      And it’s not like MLS runs a system that is slightly looser than our other sports leagues – the controls the league exerts on each club are unprecedented.

      You and I both want to see soccer grow in the US. They want to see soccer grow in the USA on their terms, and if it doesn’t, they’ll blame everything but a rinky dink model that controls each club more than Chuck E. Cheeses controls every one if it’s restaurants.

      Their supporters say “wait for the league to be profitable, wait until it has an impact, and then they will decide as a group to loosen their controls”

      Chuck E Cheeses has hosted millions of birthday parties for kids. They’re still pretty much the same. They have no plans to make them better, and get higher priced performers. This business model puts owners first, second and eighty fifth. They’re certainly not going to divest into independent businesses, and compete for promotion and against relegation.

      We’re supposed to support it because they own first division soccer in this country, and we’d better just accept it. That cat left the bag a century ago. Unlike NFL and MLB, and thanks to cable and the internet, they are not the only show in town. We’ve got lots of reality soccer out there to choose from – why choose the MLS imitation?

      Sorry for the long response – but it turns my stomach to watch them turn the beautiful game into a chuck e cheeses – in a country that could support far better.


    Well written!! And right on point. When you boil down the elements into a crucible, you will find that this is a Don Garber/Mark Abbott/Sunil Gulati show where Division I is ultimately controlled. The billionare boys club members are fed the same tripe by this dastardly trio.

    This whole problem could easily be solved with USSF requiring a higher mandate in its regulations for members of a Division I league. They could require higher salaries; player contracts to be with the individual team, not the league (MLS); and so on.

    The problem is that USSF board would never vote against the dastardly trio’s desires, as they have it rigged.

    Maybe an alternative approach would be for the fans to begin communicating with the individual board members and petition to make changes to the USSF Division I regulations so there is no need for the mess MLS is in.


    420 Fifth Ave. 7th Floor, New York, NY, 10018 – (212) 450-1200


    MLS Contact:

    Will Kuhns – (212) 450-1206


    Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber, MLS Players Union Executive Director Bob Foose and Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service George Cohen to Discuss the MLS Collective Bargaining Agreement

    NEW YORK (Saturday, March 20, 2010) – Major League Soccer will host a media teleconference call today, Saturday, March 20, beginning at 1:00 p.m. ET with key individuals involved with the League’s Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations.

    Details for media interested in participating are included below. Please contact Will Kuhns with MLS Communications at (212) 450-1206 if you have any questions.

    WHAT: MLS Collective Bargaining Agreement Media Conference Call

    U.S. and Canadian media should dial: (877) 391-5953

    International Dial-in number: (706) 634-9483

    Conference ID: 64572871

    WHEN: Saturday, March 20

    1:00 pm ET

    WHO: Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber

    MLS Players Union Executive Director Bob Foose

    Director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service George Cohen

  13. Great. A deal is being announced at MLS Net at this time. Go LA Galaxy. The season will start next week. YEAH.

  14. I think MLS owners noticed that – everywhere but their affiliate BigSoccer – blogger opinion was pretty clearly in the players favor.

    Concessions were made, and the single entity stands a bit weaker.

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