MLS

Sweeney: Three keys to tentative MLS CBA should help make league a better place in which to work

Major League Soccer and the Players Association have come to a tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement which would, should it be ratified, give players a better opportunity to become free agents, while giving players increased salaries over the life of the agreement.

The MLSPA announced the agreement on Thursday, more than 24 hours before a one-week extension to the current CBA, agreed to in 2015, was set to expire; it must be ratified by the players as well as the league’s Board of Governors before being enacted.

Should that happen, the new CBA would run through January 2025.

According to a press release from the MLSPA, free agency rights are expected to rise significantly, with players aged 24 with 5 years of service to the league allowed to seek free agency at the end of their deals. In addition, payrolls will increase, with the average salary soaring over $500,000, and the minimum salary for a senior rostered player going over $100,000 by 2024, a 55 percent increase, with the reserve roster salary minimum rising to $85,000.

In addition, more charter flights will be added to a team’s road itinerary, from four in the past CBA to upward of 16 in 2024; there will be revenue shared with the players when the current television rights package expires in 2022; all player contracts become guaranteed in the second year; continued investment in youth development; benefit extensions for veteran players; increased moving stipends and benefits; 401k contributions increased; players would also see an increased per diem while on the road.

WHAT SWEENS REALLY THINKS RIGHT NOW

Huge. The fact that more money is going to the players — which it should — along with giving the players more revenue sharing from the next TV contract should keep labor peace through the end of the 2024 season. Mazel tov to all those who saw sense that a player playing professionally should be able to make as close to a living wage as possible.

The big thing, from my perspective at least, is the free agency angle. Over the last two years of covering the Revolution, I’ve picked up a little insight on things which would sound completely foreign to a sportswriter covering the other four American leagues: in speaking with midfielder Scott Caldwell during the Lee Nguyen Saga in mid-April 2018, he said, “As a Player’s Association Leader, I am a strong advocate and believer in player rights. I would like to see sometimes players being able to pick and choose where they work and live.” And at the end of that season, Kelyn Rowe, when asked if he wanted to return to Foxborough for 2019, said, “When you guys talk about contracts, it’s not up to me. You guys know it’s out of my hands. You know this league, you guys know I’m not hitting any free agency. It’s out of my hands.”

To get the league to go down from 27 to 24, plus five years of service, that’s a tell. It’s giving the players more freedom to choose where they want to live and work, which is what Caldwell and Rowe and the players want.

It’s also telling the youth soccer players in our country to come into our league by age 19, and you have free agency when you’re 24. The fact that teams are signing their Academy players at such a young age — Diego Fagundez is a week from 25 years old, he’s been in the league for 10 years, and he’s never once experienced free agency; with this new deal, he can finally do that when his contract with the Revs is up — and with the talent pool slowly increasing, it will give more opportunities for young players to become professionals in their chosen sport and have the opportunity to do what you can do in other sports, which is test the market.

Another interesting point of the new CBA is the increased chartered flights for road matches. Last year was an especially interesting year for travel: the Philadelphia Union had two lengthy to-and-from commercial airline trips to Vancouver, while Montreal had issues getting to Foxborough for its midweek clash against the Revs.

The fact the league investor/operators have gone with limited charter flights up until now is absolutely asinine. The fact that players, when playing with such a compressed schedule thanks to expansion and other competitions, have to waste their recovery days waiting for cross-country commercial flights is beyond ridiculous. This isn’t a sport like baseball where you can play two games in a day and upward of three in 36-48 hours; no, this is a sport where endurance and recovery is key. Players are running upward of nine kilometers in an hour and a half span; they need that recovery time.

The fact the players are getting these things, these important things, I feel, is going to help make MLS a better league for players to work.

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