WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Major League Soccer and its players struck a deal for a new collective bargaining agreement on Wednesday, avoiding the threat of a players’ strike two days before the start of the season.
MLS commissioner Don Garber confirmed to Reuters the MLS Players Union (MLSPU) and the league had reached agreement after four straight days of negotiations at the Washington offices of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
“I am pleased to announce we have reached an agreement in principle with our union,” Garber told Reuters.
“We are not going into details tonight but it is great to be able to continue the momentum that we have been able to build for this league and do it in partnership with our players.”
With the 20th MLS season scheduled to open on Friday, labor talks went down to the wire as the two sides hammered out a new five-year deal to replace the previous agreement which expired on Jan. 31.
“The deal is done,” Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando, the team’s union representative, told Reuters as he left the talks.
Orlando City representative Tally Hall, whose team makes their MLS debut on Sunday against fellow-expansion team New York City FC, said he was proud of the work of the players.
The main sticking point in the talks was the players’ demand for the introduction of free agency.
MLS has never suffered from a work stoppage but some players had publicly threatened to strike if their demands were not met.
Hall told Reuters the deal included a form of free agency, albeit restricted to players 28 years and older with at least eight years in the league.
“When you take a step back and look at the deal we have, a free agency system in place that other leagues in North America had to have several work stoppages,” he said.
“...and we get something in place without a work stoppage and I think it changes the dynamic of the league.”
The deal also includes a rise in the minimum wage in the league and the overall team salary cap although full details were not immediately available.
Chicago Fire players had flown to Los Angeles for Friday’s game against the Galaxy not knowing if the match would go ahead.
Among the scheduled games for Sunday, two MLS teams will make their debuts as New York City FC travel to Orlando City, who have sold over 60,000 tickets for the clash at the Citrus Bowl.
A new eight year domestic television deal, with games featuring on Fox Sports and ESPN also gets underway this season while the league recently signed a broadcast deal with Britain’s Sky Sports.
“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,” said Garber.
Additional writing by Ian Ransom; Editing by Julian Linden