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MLS, Players Must Start Season on Time

As the start of the 2015 Major League Soccer season approaches in two weeks, there’s a dark cloud looming all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the opening weekend–CBA negotiations.

Currently, MLS and the player’s union have no CBA in place; that expired back at the end on January. Now the race is on to get a new deal in place by the start of the season and avoid any potential strike by the players.

And that must happen for the league, especially as it grows and competes with hockey to be the fourth major sport in America. Any break and negative publicity will certainly stunt its own growth as well as the growth of the sport in the U.S.

There is good news along that front. First, it’s been reported that the two sides have reached agreements on the smaller issues so that they can leave the next two weeks focusing on the bigger issues. And there’s also a possibility that the players could play on even without a CBA in place; there’s no rule or law anywhere saying that they can’t.

But the latter seems unlikely, so the focus for much of the next two weeks will be on biggest issue: free agency.

MLS is currently a single-entity league, meaning that the league and the teams legally connected and technically the league owns the teams. One of the biggest issues of this is player movement, especially players coming into the league, as shown by “secret designated player orders” and “blind draws” for players. The players want some sort of free agency, like all American sports have and is similar to the rest of the soccer world.┬áThe league, meanwhile, say that would push league and team expenditures to an unsustainable level.

Honestly, I don’t really have an opinion on which side of the argument is better, but I do believe that they’re going to have to reach some sort of an agreement before the season gets going, or is scheduled to get going.

If an agreement isn’t reached by the start of the season on March 6, there’s the very real possibility of a strike, which could be devastating for the league. The league is already inferior in the minds of European soccer fans living in the States and is still struggling in the mainstream in the U.S. and falling over with a labor strike would push the league further down in both categories. Just look at the NHL, who’s still struggling to recover from its own labor strike a few years ago.

That would ruin what could be a big year for the league too. Soccer is at an all-time high in the U.S. coming off of a record-setting World Cup last summer. Attendance continues to grow and two new teams are coming into the league with a few big-name players coming from overseas. There is a lot of anticipation for this MLS season.

But a strike will take that away, hurt the league and therefore hurt the players, which would make for quite some irony if that were to happen. And while I understand there a big dynamics at play here, it will be in the best interest for all who are involved in the league and soccer in the U.S. to get this deal done in the last two weeks before the season to avoid a strike.