WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Major League Soccer’s labor deal won’t dramatically change the league’s structure or radically improve the earning power of its players but it does open the door to more significant changes in the future.
The deal has yet to be ratified and while the fine-tuning goes on neither MLS or its players were willing to publicly acknowledge the details of the pact, which was agreed to in principle on Wednesday.
But several elements of the deal are in the public domain and have not been challenged by either side.
Multiple reports said the league’s minimum salary, applied mainly to young players, would rise from to $60,000 from $36,000 with further increases over the term of the five-year deal.
The current salary cap for each team stands at $3.1 million, excluding the three highly-paid ‘designated players’ allowed for each team, but several reports indicate it could rise as high as $4.2 million by 2019.
Those numbers remain very modest compared to major European soccer leagues and other sports in North America but the key sticking point in the talks was free agency rights, something the players were willing to strike over.
Philadelphia Union union representative Brian Carroll told the Philadelphia Inquirer’s website that the players came very close to striking.
“Internally, we did come to a strike vote at some point during the process. Only after some last second feelers were placed out from both sides did we come back to the table and eventually (reach a deal) that both parties could agree upon.”
Players involved in the talks told Reuters that the new deal allows free agency for players aged 28 or over with at least eight years experience in the league.
While the new arrangement will allow players to choose which clubs they wish to play for once they are out of contract, reports and player sources indicated there are limits on how much extra a player can earn from a new deal.
MLS owners had been adamant that they wouldn’t tolerate free agency for players and for some players that concession, albeit in a restricted form, is a breakthrough.
“Of course the players would have liked to have seen that (age) lower,” Orlando City goalkeeper and union representative Tally Hall told Reuters.
“But I think 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 (to achieve).
“That is a huge win, and I think it changes the dynamic of the league. We wanted to set in motion something that effects the league when we are gone.”
Crucially for the players, when the next deal is done in five years the debate about free agency will no longer be about its feasibility in MLS’s closed single entity system but rather about the ages of availability and the terms.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber said that the difficult process of the talks had not damaged relations between the league and the players and could even have improved them.
“The process will be very positive for an even more productive relationship with the players than we have had in the past,” Garber told Reuters.
“The positives that will come out of the last few weeks and the last few days is not just a terrific long term agreement ... but will also allow us to perhaps get closer to our player pool and work more closely with them to help build our league.”
Editing by Frank Pingue