Sports Soccer

MLS talks in crunch time

By Kurt Larson, Toronto Sun

If no CBA deal is made by Wednesday night, TFC fans will have to wait to see Sebastian Giovinco's debut. (QMI AGENCY)

If no CBA deal is made by Wednesday night, TFC fans will have to wait to see Sebastian Giovinco's debut. (QMI AGENCY)

TORONTO - 

Toronto FC players and brass don’t yet know if they’ll board a flight to Vancouver Thursday morning.

Major League Soccer’s opening weekend hangs in the balance amid CBA talks in Washington D.C.

The Reds are scheduled to open the league’s 20th season on Saturday at BC Place, but could be grounded before departing for the Pacific Northwest if the MLS Players’ Union and ownership fail to come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement.

The league’s old five-year CBA expired on Dec. 31 and both sides agreed to continue operating without an agreement throughout the pre-season.

But with the Chicago Fire scheduled to travel to L.A. on Wednesday afternoon for Friday’s season opener, it’s believed the season’s first weekend will be cancelled if the two sides don’t come to terms by Wednesday evening.

The main stumbling block at the moment remains free agency — something the players are desperate for while ownership believes it will threaten the league’s single-entity structure.

Citing an unnamed source, the Washington Post indicated Tuesday that Major League Soccer’s top brass offered the MLSPU free agency for players 32 or older with 10 years experience with the same club.

That proposal, however, is not expected to be accepted as it would still greatly limit free agency.

While the league’s top brass have reportedly made concessions in terms of increased salary cap and minimum salary, the players are bullish in their attempts to see some form of free agency implemented.

Currently, players are more or less tied to their respective clubs without the ability to negotiate with other MLS clubs when their contract ends.

Instead, players’ current clubs have first right of refusal, provided they make an out-of-contract player a bonafide offer.

The players point to the league’s sizable new TV deal and multiple $100-million expansion fees as proof MLS can afford to loosen its purse strings.

On the other hand, the league remains adamant that slow and steady growth — aided by the league’s unique single-entity structure — should continue. The league has openly stated many of its franchises are still losing money.

The Toronto Sun reached out to multiple player union reps on Tuesday without response.

Toronto FC’s Joe Bendik and Steven Caldwell remain in the U.S. capital at the negotiating table alongside fellow player reps and the league’s head honchos.

Talks were expected to continue into Wednesday, the last possible day to avoid a league-wide work stoppage. 

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