Billy’s MLS Beat
It’s time to breathe a sigh of relief MLS fans. There will be a season and it will start on time.
After weeks of talks between MLS owners and the players’ union, all of which seemingly went nowhere, the two sides were able to reach an agreement late Wednesday that will allow the league to launch this season on time when the Chicago Fire take on the defending MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy in Carson, CA Friday night. Many worried that due to the sides being so far apart on the key issue of free agency, a work stoppage was imminent, however, the two sides were able to reach an agreement that helps the future of this league.
Free agency has been a hot button topic in MLS for some time now, as the players have challenged the single entity structure of the league for years, while owners maintain that the single entity structure and controlled growth will allow the league to utilize stability that was absent from the NASL of the 70s and 80s.
With the new CBA, it seems we have reached a compromise. Gone is the allocation order, at least in part, and free agency has arrived. MLS players of at least 28 years of age with 8 or more years in MLS will be eligible for free agency at the end of their contracts. Additionally, those making $100,000 or more a year will be eligible for a 125% salary bump, while those making $200,000 or more will be eligible for a 120% increase.
These increases will help more evenly distribute the influx of cash from the league’s new TV deal and expansion fees from Orlando City SC and NYC FC. Additionally, rookie contracts have been boosted to a $60,000 league minimum, a massive jump from the $20,000-$30,000 range in the last CBA. This will keep MLS rookies away from sleeping on teammates’ couches, taking the subway to and from practice and games, as well as eating Top Ramen for every meal. While the days of the impoverished MLS player are far from over, this new CBA is certainly a step in the right direction.
Ultimately, the MLS players’ union simply fought for players’ rights that have been commonplace in the other major sports leagues for decades. Free agency has become a permanent fixture amongst the four other major sports, and gives veterans the right to choose the team and path that is best for their career. Additionally, a boost in salaries will help MLS attract and retain some of the best talent in the world, as the league looks to be amongst the world’s best by 2024.
The new CBA is certainly a victory for North American soccer.
While the players’ rights story is certainly a nice narrative, the real driving force behind the accelerated CBA negotiations surrounds the idea that this is the most highly anticipated MLS season of all time. Orlando City claims that over 60,000 tickets have been sold for their matchup against NYC FC on Sunday night. Vancouver and Toronto matchup on the opening weekend for the first time, with both teams holding out title hopes. Seattle takes on defending Eastern Conference champions New England in front of a sold out crowd at CenturyLink Field. This is truly the best MLS opening weekend of all time.
Combine these matchups with the fact that players like David Villa, Kaka, Frank Lampard, and Steven Gerard will join forces with national teamers like Jozy Altidore and Mix Diskerud in what is surely the league’s most high profile display of talent ever. MLS is on the right path to become one of the greatest