La Liga players ask for US match to be scrapped

MADRID (AP) — Spain’s players’ association is asking the Spanish league not to play a regular-season match in the United States, and wouldn’t rule out a strike if its demands on that and other issues aren’t met.

Captains of the first-division clubs met Wednesday in Madrid and said they are against the unilateral decision to take league matches outside of Spain, something that could happen as early as this season as part of La Liga’s new 15-year deal to promote soccer in North America and boost its image abroad.

Association president David Aganzo said the league should have consulted with the players before making “the business decision” to play in the U.S., adding that the footballers “are not for sale.”

“The players are outraged. They are against these decisions that are being made unilaterally, especially the one about playing matches outside of Spain,” Aganzo said in a news conference following the players’ meeting. “We are willing to go to the end. The players don’t think only about money, they also think about their health and about the fans.”

The association said in a statement the players agreed to take a more drastic action if a deal can’t be reached.

“If by the end of September or early October (a solution can’t be found), we will have to take action,” Aganzo said.

Asked directly about the possibility of a strike, Aganzo said he couldn’t rule it out. He said a meeting with La Liga president Javier Tebas is scheduled for next month.

The league said later Wednesday it will meet with the players’ association in the appropriate forum to discuss the plans.

Talking last week about the match abroad, Tebas said La Liga will take into account what’s best for the clubs, players, fans and all other stakeholders.

The league announced its plans to play a match across the Atlantic last week. Although it said the first game could still happen this season, it did not say which teams would be involved and did not provide further details. The move is part of La Liga’s attempt to expand internationally as it tries to keep pace with the powerful Premier League in England.

Aganzo said the league’s decision to play in the U.S. was just the final straw. The players also complained about late kickoffs and about games being played on Friday and Monday nights, which they said was done to accommodate viewers in different time zones abroad.

Some games in Spain have been starting at 10:15 p.m. local time, with the league blaming the heat and saying it’s actually taking the players’ and fans’ health into consideration.

After Real Madrid’s 2-0 win over Getafe in a late game on Sunday, midfielder Toni Kroos tweeted a photo of himself with a serious face and the phrase: “I am happier then (sic) it seems, but usually I am asleep at this time.”

The late kickoffs produced low attendances in several matches, even when Madrid and Barcelona were involved. Just over 50,000 people saw Barcelona’s 3-0 win over Alaves on Saturday at Camp Nou Stadium, and less than 50,000 were at hand for Madrid’s game at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. That match was also Madrid’s first at home without Cristiano Ronaldo, which might have affected the attendance.

The late games are not new to Spain, where the summer heat often produces temperatures near 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) even late in the day. The league in the past considered postponing matches because of the heat.

The first few rounds have the early games beginning after 6 p.m. local time, and water breaks have been implemented to allow players to remain hydrated.