With eight days until the start of the Major League Soccer season and no sign of a deal between the players union and the league over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, MLS clearly risks a work stoppage at the opening of its 20th season.
All reports indicate that the issue of free agency is going to be the stumbling block that could lead to a player strike with the union insisting this is a right they are ready to fight for and the league adamant that they won’t budge on the issue.
So does MLS face the prospect of a damaging long-term strike, possibly wiping out the 2015 season?
I don’t doubt the players when they talk about their determination to secure the same free agency rights that soccer players around the world enjoy. Nor do I think the union are bluffing when they raise the prospect of a strike.
In fact, having made free agency the over-riding issue in the CBA talks and threatened to strike, the union have almost boxed themselves in. Without achieving their goal, which is far from within reach, a strike is possibly the only way the union leadership can maintain their credibility with their members.
Perhaps it might have been wiser to have stated ‘serious progress towards free agency’ as the union’s goal, allowing for various kinds of deals to be struck, but as it is the free agency or bust approach, pushes the union towards a strike.
On the other side, MLS teams have no interest in allowing the kind of free agency that exists elsewhere in the world inside the tightly controlled and highly regulated structure of MLS.
Nor does the league really have too much to lose from a work stoppage where the cards appear to be stacked heavily in their favor.
While MLS clubs would surely prefer the season to start on time, there is no particular hurry for the league and judging by the apparent lack of intensity to the meetings with the union, there isn’t yet an impetus to get a deal done.
So a strike looks likely but the odds are stacked against the union – and that usually leads to a short dispute.
If a union is going to go long and hard in a dispute, it has to be ready to support its workers with a fighting fund – reports suggest the MLSPU has just $5 million in resources.