Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber has claimed that he does not know what his league’s referees want in their current collective bargaining negotiations. MLS recently locked out their referees after their union, the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA), declined the latest labor proposal. The North American soccer league is now using replacement referees for the time being.

MLS supposedly had a financial deal in place with their refs in recent weeks. This came after getting on the same page with the Professional Referees Organization (PRO). This group manages match referees in the North American league. However, PSRA eventually blocked the latest proposal after a vote. According to the association, 95.8% of voting officials chose to reject the most recent proposal.

Don Garber claims to be clueless about referees’ demands in MLS proposal

As the 2024 MLS season was set to start on Wednesday night, Garber was asked directly about the situation. The commissioner admitted that the negotiations are unique in the sports world but was also not exactly sincere in his thoughts on what PSRA wants in the deal.

“I’ve been in a lot of labor negotiations. I’ve never been in a labor negotiation where you reach an agreement with a bargaining unit and they don’t sell it to their members,” claimed Garber. “That’s certainly unprecedented in my experience in professional sports.”

“We extended the negotiating period at their request multiple times. We offered a no-lockout and no-strike clause, they didn’t want that. I don’t even know what it is they want at this point because we don’t even have any information from them, so it is unfortunate.”

“We are very, very confident in PRO and their leadership of the officiating for the professional game in North America and hopefully we’ll get through it. And if we don’t, we’re very prepared.”

Nevertheless, PSRA officials have made it quite clear what they expect from the outcome of the negotiations. The referees have claimed that the overwhelming opposition to the deal was mostly due to problems with pay and benefits. Along with other issues, PSRA officials were also not pleased with PRO’s stance in the negotiations.

MLS also dealing with opposition for U.S. Open Cup situation

Along with refereeing issues, MLS is also dealing with the fallout over attempting to not field teams in the U.S. Open Cup. The top flight announced back in December that their clubs would not participate in the upcoming tournament. U.S. Soccer, however, initially opposed this stance and the two sides have been in a standoff regarding the issue.

Although an official ruling has not yet become official, there are claims that just eight American MLS teams will feature in the 2024 U.S. Open Cup. As a result, United Soccer League (USL) CEO Paul McDonough is not thrilled with the potential situation.

McDonough, like most soccer fans in the States, believes that the U.S. Open Cup should keep its current format. “MLS teams participating, they’re a key factor in the finances of this whole competition,” proclaimed McDonough.

The USL CEO also asserted that lower-level clubs in the American soccer pyramid are vital to the growth of the game here Stateside. “If soccer’s going to grow in this country — I know [MLS] probably think differently — it’s not going be built on the back of just the 30 or 32 MLS teams,” continued McDonough. “It’s just not.”

These problems with MLS could not come at a worse time. The 2024 season just kicked off Wednesday night and the league is expecting a boost in interest due to Lionel Messi’s involvement in the division. While the league should be riding high heading into the new campaign, there are, instead, major headaches to deal with.