MLS players happy with deal despite no free agency

BY foxsports • March 23, 2010

Even without free agency as part of a new collective-bargaining agreement, Major League Soccer players are pleased with the progress made when it comes to their rights.

The new five-year labor contract between the MLS and its players union was announced on Saturday, less than a week before the season was scheduled to begin. And while the free agency players hoped for isn't part of the new deal, the increase in guaranteed contracts and more freedom to find a better situation was satisfactory from the players' standpoint.

``Credit to the league, credit to the players that we now have a five-year deal in place that both sides can feel comfortable with,'' Seattle Sounders FC goalkeeper Kasey Keller said Monday. ``You're never going to get everything that you want on both sides. It was a credit that both sides wanted to get something done, both sides gave where they needed to give and we're playing because of it.''

With talk of a strike or lockout now set aside, the league can focus on Thursday night's season opener featuring the Sounders and expansion Philadelphia.

Keller was among a number of players who made the trip to Washington, D.C., for the final days of negotiations before George H. Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, and Scot L. Beckenbaugh, the agency's deputy director.

MLS commissioner Don Garber credited Cohen and his staff with helping to forge a deal. Cohen said on Saturday that he tried to reach agreement on smaller issues to build momentum and get the sides to realize ``Western civilization does not hang in the balance.''

Keller was equally complimentary of Cohen, saying his work in ``bridging the gaps'' was critical in both sides coming away with a good feeling about the outcome.

``Both sides were extremely committed to not having a work stoppage,'' Keller said. ``We're starting to build some very good momentum in this sport in this country and we didn't want to derail that. But at the same time we also knew that where the league was in the last CBA it's not there now. We know it's not where we want it to be, but the steps were accurate for players and the league situation.''

Under the principles of the new agreement, the majority of players will now receive guaranteed contracts, a number that Keller said will be closer to 60 percent, rather than the previous 18 to 20 percent.

Management was opposed to free agency within MLS, which has negotiated all contracts as a single entity on behalf of its teams since play began in 1996. MLS said players always had the option of signing with clubs overseas.

Now there will be a re-entry draft for players whose contracts end, options are declined or who reach a certain age.

``First and foremost the league kind of came back and recognized that there were some inequities in the system and some proposals to fix that,'' said James Riley, Seattle's players representative. ``I think we recognized the fact they were trying to make strides within the single-entity structure and we respected that and we were able to come to an agreement. We weren't able to get everything that we wanted but we were able to progress in the areas significant to players.''