Talks went down to the wire, but with the help of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation office in Washington DC, Major League Soccer and the MLS Players Union reached agreement on a five-year Collective Bargaining Agreement that will run through the 2019 season.
"We are pleased to announce that we have reached a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the league," said Bob Foose, Executive Director of the MLS Players Union, in a statement. "We are pleased to finally turn our fans attention back to our players and the competition on the field as we get started on the 2015 season."
As recently as the night before, a strike by MLS players seemed an almost certainty, especially given the union's firm stance on gaining free agency rights and increased compensation. However, the might of the league eventually came to bear, and union leaders apparently capitulated on some key negotiations. MLS does not appear to have lost any ground in its stand to retain its single-entity status.
"We are pleased to finalize the framework for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with our players," said MLS Commissioner Don Garber in a statement. "We now enter our 20th season with enormous momentum with our new television partnerships, dynamic star players from the U.S., Canada and abroad, and two new expansion teams in New York City and Orlando that will debut in front of more than 60,000 fans on Sunday in the Citrus Bowl. This agreement will provide a platform for our players, ownership and management to work together to help build Major League Soccer into one of the great soccer leagues in the world."
According to multiple reports, MLS has agreed to a very limited form of free agency that allows players that are 28 years or older and have played in the league for at least 8 seasons the opportunity to move within the league when their contracts run out.
Previously, a player's rights were held by a club even after his contract had expired as long as the club made a reasonable offer. With the new CBA, expected to be implemented within the next day, qualifying out-of-contract players can sign with a team of their choosing and their previous club receives no compensation. The catch for players is that their new salary can only increase by a maximum amount -- a capped figure that provides no more than a 25% pay increase.
A significant change in compensation policy was also agreed to in the new CBA. While figures related to increases in a team's overall salary cap have not been released, progress was made in elevating the league minimum salary from $36,500 to $60,000 -- and increase of nearly 65% for the MLS salary bottom feeders.
One byproduct of the bump in the minimum salary might be a lack of additional funds -- even with an overall raise in the salary cap -- for the MLS middle class. Reports have already surfaced that many players are unhappy with this aspect of the deal.
While the details of the agreement in principle will emerge in the days to come, the most important result of the deal is that the MLS season will proceed as scheduled with the Chicago Fire versus LA Galaxy this Friday night. The San Jose Earthquakes begin their 2015 MLS campaign on the road against FC Dallas on Saturday afternoon, kick off at 5:30 p.m. Pacific time.