MLS Facing Unmitigated Disaster

Major League Soccer is a niche league, perhaps the largest niche league in North America (depending on your view of hockey and the NHL).  It lacks a lot of the tradition, and strength that can be found in older leagues such as the National Football League, or Major League Baseball.  Even the NHL has strong traditions relative to Major League soccer.  Niche leagues fill certain markets, and reach out to small support bases.  They are not immune to problems and possess a wide variety of weaknesses.

One of those weaknesses is the susceptibility to a work stoppage.

Major League Soccer is on the verge of a virtual collapse, and the league seems to think that a collapse is preferable to granting the most basic right a worker has.  The right of mobility and freedom to choose where you work.  In any other line of employment outside of sports, the employer would be clearly in the wrong (and likely taken to court) for doing what it can to restrict labour rights.  But in sports, we tolerate labour violations because there is a perception that we can encourage league competitiveness by restricting labour rights.  Others rationalize the violation of labour rights as a way of keeping players from being paid too much.

Regardless, with any other product this would be considered illegal. But US (and Canadian) law is funny on sports leagues and the product they peddle. So, the Players are going to have to seek a compromise, as legal action on labour issues such as these has failed across numerous sports.

Major League Soccer is moving towards a lockout or strike, both of which would be absolutely terrible for the North American game and a blow to the credibility of the USSF abroad.  There seems to be broad consensus among followers of the league that a strike or lockout would be the death of the league.

The odd thing about this whole situation is that MLS and the Players Union are not far apart on the issues. There remains a major stumbling block which has yet to be overcome.

It is free agency (in combination with player mobility).

Under the current system, players have no right to say no to a trade, and cannot catch on with another MLS team when their contract expires.  And oddly, neither the league or the players seem to be able to come together on a compromise.

Here is what I propose as a solution.  It’s a halfway point, known as Restricted Free Agency and is employed in the NHL.

1. Players over the age of 28 or who have played 5 years, consecutively, in MLS are entitled to unrestricted free agency.
2. Players over the age of 28 or who have played 5 years, consecutively, in MLS are entitled to a No Trade Clause.
3. Players under the age of 28 and who have not played 5 years, consecutively, in MLS are entitled to Restricted Free Agency.  Clubs must offer a contract equal or greater in nominal value to their previous contract or the player becomes an unrestricted free agent.
4. Players under the age of 28 and who have not played 5 years, consecutively, in MLS are permitted to negotiate No Trade Clauses into their contracts.

This is obviously not with all the bells and whistles that a “legalese” agreement would require, but it is something which the two groups can work off of.  Maybe the age should be higher, maybe lower. Maybe you should need less or more consecutive years.

But it’s something of a compromise and may spark some ideas.

What do you think?  What are your proposals on bridging this volatile issue? Would RFA work in MLS?

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