FIFPRO: Negotiations between Major League Soccer and its players on a new collective bargaining agreement have reached a critical juncture. The current agreement in place expires on January 31, but despite months of negotiations the two sides have made little progress on a new deal.
The league is now threatening to lock the players out on February 1 (effectively shutting down the league) if the players don't agree to a continuation of the status quo.
The primary point of contention is the league's unique system, which differs substantially from other leagues around the world and violates FIFA regulations in several respects. Thus, for example:
• Player contracts are routinely terminated by the league during their term, as almost 80 percent of players in MLS do not have guaranteed contracts;
SA: The percentage is not known, but most MLS deals are guaranteed only for the first year and a portion of the second, after which option years kick in. Guaranteed money, not just the higher salaries, helps propel American players to smaller European leagues like those in Scandinavia where the vast majority of contracts are guaranteed for their full duration or at least three years if a longer-term deal. Those that are terminated before their completion of their guaranteed term are usually done so only in cases of extreme player misbehavior or by mutual consent.
• MLS operates as a cartel in that every player's contract must be entered into with the league instead of his club;
SA: The MLS single-entity system is certainly different, but has also been used in other U.S. leagues and been upheld in U.S. courts, which is one reason FIFA is staying quiet on this dispute.
• The contract of virtually every player in the league contains multiple unilateral one-year options that may only be exercised by the league;
SA: Options are sometimes included in the contracts of other American sports leagues. They are not common in foreign soccer contracts but neither are they unheard of, nor are they illegal. There are mutually agreed-upon options also.
• Virtually any player in the league can be transferred to another club within the league without his consent even if such transfer is international, such as a transfer from an MLS club in the United States to or from an MLS club in Canada.
SA: Trades between U.S. professional baseball, hockey and basketball teams are common and not illegal, and players have crossed the border in those leagues numerous times. A player can always refuse a trade, as Amado Guevara did, and some players have trade-approval clauses written into their contracts, as does Landon Donovan, to cite one example. FIFA does not tightly regulate intraleague player moves, such as short-term loans as well as trades, and will only intervene in extraordinary circumstances.
• There is no freedom of movement for any MLS player to any other MLS clubs when his contract expires - in fact, even if a player's contract is unilaterally terminated by a club during its term, that club continues to hold such player's rights and he is prohibited from signing with another club in the league.
The players, through the MLS Players Union, have made it clear that this system must change in order for the league to progress."
"What we are looking for are the same basic rights that players enjoy in other leagues around the world', said Kasey Keller, longtime U.S. international and veteran of the top leagues in England, Germany and Spain. "We have made great strides in developing the game in the United States. But we can't truly compete internationally, either for players or fans, with a system that is so radically different than other leagues around the world.'"
Thus far FIFA has remained silent, despite MLS's blatant violations of its regulations.
Players are concerned, but resolved. Landon Donovan, who at 27 is already the leading goal scorer in U.S. history, remarked that "the league shutting down MLS in February would do real damage to the development of the game in the United States and to our efforts to prepare for South Africa. It is difficult to understand why the owners would take this course, when all we are asking for are the same rights enjoyed by other players around the world, not just in the biggest leagues, but in leagues of all sizes."