U.S. coach Bruce Arena started training camp with 22 players from the USL and the Major Indoor Soccer League on Monday because the U.S. national team players were on strike, or, according to the Players Association, were locked out of preparations for World Cup qualifying.
The players, who have been without a contract since December 2002, have accepted a 38 percent pay increase for the upcoming games in exchange for a no-strike, no-lockout provision for 2005.
''Certainly, I'm relieved,'' U.S. Coach Bruce Arena told the Washington Post. ''We now have a full group of players to utilize and we'll prepare for our next game. We'll have to decide whether to hold over any of these [replacement] players or say thanks and move on.''
The current agreement expires in December, which means that if a collective bargaining agreement is not reached in 2005, the players could boycott the 2006 World Cup if they qualify.
In U.S. SoccerÆs statement on the Jan. 21 agreement U.S. Soccer President Bob Contiguglia said, ''We're very pleased the union has accepted our latest proposal and given us the assurance that there will be no strikes for any U.S. Soccer activity through the duration of the year. This certainly allows us to confidently begin calling players into camp and to continue preparing for our participation in the final round of World Cup qualifying play. This is a clear win for both the fans and the sport of soccer in the U.S.
''We certainly believe that moving forward in this manner can help the two parties reach a collective bargaining agreement that is not only good for the long-term growth of the sport in the U.S., but is also good for our national team players and our millions of members.''
The U.S. National Soccer Team Players Association statement included:
''Just hours after more than 70 United States soccer players filed a demand for expedited arbitration today [Jan. 21] pursuant to the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, the United States Soccer Federation changed its position and agreed to immediately permit Coach Bruce Arena to invite the members of the United States National Soccer Team Players Association to participate in the current training camp to prepare to play in the World Cup qualifying game at Trinidad & Tobago on Feb. 9, 2005.
''The USSF had locked-out the members of the National Team, insisting that any agreement would not be retroactive. Now that the USSF has decided to honor its promise of retroactivity, and will increase player compensation from the 1999-2002 amounts they have been paid for the past six years, the national team players will be back on the field and negotiations for a 2003-2006 agreement can recommence.
''The players are optimistic that the USSF decision to end its lockout may signal that the USSF will start to negotiate in good faith.''