MLS needs real free agency

So we are finally here – we have a Collective Bargaining Agreement in Major League Soccer but it doesn’t go far enough. The owners won, but as fans we are supposed to be happy that the league is back for the 20th season. The Citrus Bowl in Orlando is sold out for the return to South Florida for soccer and we can get Manchester City New York City FC into the league. Ok, so that’s good.

The agreement is that a player must be 28 years-old, and/or in the league for 8 years to get free agency. Also, the salary cap goes up by 15% and the minimum wage is $60,000 a year. Not good enough.

In America a ‘Collective Bargaining Agreement’ is how the league operates for a period of time. Usually when one expires, the owners start complaining about being broke and they can’t give in to any demands that the players can bring to the table. Sport over here has been crippled by strikes or lockouts because of one side not getting what they want. The NHL still hasn’t recovered from their work stoppages years ago, and it took MLB years to get back, and it was only when the players took more steroids than they were before.

This week we heard that the owners first had given the players an offer of free agency if a player was 32 and had 10 years service time at a club. That’s only five players in MLS history and only one is still around. That idea was shouted down by the throngs of dissenters on social media. The owners then came back with another idea; that a player had to be 28 and/or have eight years in the league to get free agency. See in America, soccer doesn’t allow the players in the league to move around freely, the players are owned by the league. Even after they are playing in other leagues. It’s clear the owners don’t want to give up control, or money.

The players in the league are at a point in their career and their development where the MLS isn’t their only option. We’re seeing players being bought by West Ham, Derby and other sides around Europe so the desire to stay here isn’t as strong as it possibly was. There’s more foreign influence too, with the great players from overseas coming in. The cartel type of league is slowly out the door. The rich owners have to realise they are damaging the league.

Major League Soccer needs a Jean-Marc Bosman or in American terms a Curt Flood to bring down the shackles and reform the game over here. Curt Flood was the baseball player in the late 1960’s to early 1970’s who sued over the reserve clause in baseball contracts and brought free agency in. This is what needs to happen in soccer. We need a well established player to throw their career away in the MLS, like Flood did in MLB, to ensure that future generations get free agency, as depressing as that might sound. I’m not talking about making contracts null and void after each year. How about at the end of their contracts, players can move where they want? Crazy idea, I know.

Also, what the league needs to have is a more realistic salary cap. Going up 15% is good enough for now, but the owners can go higher. There’s players making six million dollars, and some barely making enough to live. Think about that, there are players lining up next to Robbie Keane, who are renting their own places. That doesn’t happen in Scotland or Belgium. Raise the cap to a point where players can live. We can cut into some of the money that these clubs are supposedly losing without breaking the league or bankrupting clubs. We’ve lost three clubs in MLS history. All shut down by the league. Not due to money.

I was rooting for a strike, only because I want the players to have equal footing with the rest of the world. The agreement means that the league will kick off but the league still has many steps to take and this was a very small baby step. Major League Soccer will never reach the heights of the Premier League. I just wish the league and the fans would see that. The sport over here needs to fix itself, and desperately. Should it fail to do so, players will leave for a fairer, more attractive proposition abroad.

After a bit of growth, Major League Soccer is in serious danger of undoing some of its good work. All that’s needed is a few minor changes to fix this broken league but there’s no sign of that coming anytime soon. How depressing.

By Stephen Brandt – Liverpool fan – @yellowcardSCB

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