Deconstructing The MLS CBA

Get your popcorn ready, MLS fans. After delays, threats of strike, and hard pressed late night negotiations, the MLS Players Union and Major League Soccer agreed to a five year, brand spanking new collective bargaining agreement.

The main points:

  1. Based on the age and years of service, the majority of players will now have guaranteed deals.
  2. A re-entry draft will be held once a year in which out-of-contract players can be claimed by other teams interested in their services.
  3. MLS retained the right to have final say on approving all player contracts, thus preventing teams from having complete autonomy to negotiate their own deals.

What does this mean?

Previous to all these recent negotiations, I literally had no idea of the many components comprising the previous intact CBA and why the Players Union was up in arms for change. After some research, here’s what I’ve got for you.

Jeff Carlisle over at ESPN Soccernet is reporting that players must be 24 years of age and dutifully served three years in the league to warrant a guaranteed contract. Although this seems fair, it remains unclear if the majority of players represent all players given these requirements or if a subgroup of the players over 24 and played three years are somehow exempt from this rule. We’ll see how this one turns out.

Bullet number two can apply directly to the situation involving Dave van den Bergh.  Currently in contract with FC Dallas, the Hoops decided he did not fit into their plans.  Under the lacking free agency policy that dragged down the previous CBA, the Walking Dutchman (an appropriate nickname) could not sign with other MLS club unless paying FC Dallas upfront. If Dallas elects to do so, van den Bergh will rot on the bench. Thankfully, the Players Union made sure this never happens again.

The third point emphasizes that the single entity system in the league will not go away. More to come on that further down…

In the short term, we can all breathe a quick sigh of relief knowing the season will actually take place. According to reports, the players did not have bluff in mind when threatening to strike four days before the first kick-off.  A no-go on the season would have been, quite frankly, disastrous. A stellar SuperDraft, victorious overseas tours, yet another above-average expansion club, and the toppling of Brazilian powerhouses in the unveilings of new stadiums have highlighted the promising winter and early spring preseason for MLS clubs. With the MLS growing in popularity and potential every year (no, really it is), a setback could have culminated in the fallout of another soccer league in the United States.

Unfortunately, there is a downside to the MLS sticking to its single-entity system, and I thank the informative blog Sounder at Heart for bringing this up:

Due to the nature of MLS and the Single Entity structure though the LEAGUE itself is the organization that makes signing decisions. This means that individual teams are only part of the committee that hires the people who make personnel decisions, and that each team competes on a weekly basis against the other members of that committee. A league that is competing with much richer leagues for more talent at lower prices, that then has to distribute that talent in unique ways to its member clubs.

This means that if any one club has a true innovator in talent discovery, it will only help said club in the short term. Since everything is controlled by the league, eventually that innovation is shared, distributed and thereby minimized in regular season competition. This also means that the best teams will not capture the necessary number of talents to compete with the much richer clubs in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Honduras in the CCL.

Single Entity, which is a necessary safety net to prevent the history of American soccer from rising up and biting us all in the ass, should not – must not – severely limit the minds of ownership and management from the innovations that are guiding world business. It can not be a crutch hobbling a well man. It must allow the freedom for an American Lyon or Canadian Arsenal.

The new CBA lasts five years, and changes the way things work, massively in the case of the re-entry draft, but it still will not allow for any player discovery innovation beyond what we have already seen in cases like Dario Sala’s desire for safe living, or Landon Donovan’s desire to play in America.

Overall, given these points, it’s difficult to determine an outright “winner,” just like in other negotiations like this. Time will indeed tell. But as for now, all of you better glue your eyes to the television on Thursday night when the Philadelphia Union take on the Seattle Sounders on ESPN 2.

Tim Patterson is a staff writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at Tim@yanksarecoming.com.

Filed Under: Major League SoccerMarch 2010

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  • Steven

    Tim, what team do you root for? I’m a Red Bulls guy — can’t wait to go to the new stadium.

  • Tim

    I support FC Dallas, although it’s been hard these past two seasons. I haven’t exactly taken to heart some of their moves as of late, and the Texas heat and middle of nowhere stadium doesn’t help. Plus the Hoops nickname I have to say is the dumbest thing I’ve heard in a long time. But I’ll stick with them for now.

    I do however enjoy watching the Sounders, and am excited to see the Union this year as well (mainly because my suitemate is from Philly and won’t shut the hell up about them).

    I hope you get out to the new stadium soon – the pictures look fantastic.

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