Or is it? With a week remaining until the Vancouver Whitecaps open their 2015 season, at BC Place, against Toronto FC, questions remain as to whether that game will occur or whether there will be a work stoppage. While issues surrounding minimum salary and the salary cap exist, it appears that the major sticking point is the notion of free agency. The players union has argued that free agency exists, to some degree, in every other sports league and thus those in MLS should have the same opportunity.
MLS insiders have stated that MLS and their owners are opposed to internal free agency as they wish to remain a single entity system. Of course, MLS is said to be offering considerable increases in salaries as an alternative to free agency.
So, what does this mean for the upcoming season? Well, the players seem to be holding their ground regarding free agency, stating that they are not willing to gain in other areas of bargaining at the expense of some type of free agency. This all suggests that a work stoppage is on the horizon.
What would a work stoppage do?
Some have argued that MLS soccer cannot afford a work stoppage and I believe that those opinions are correct. There is a lot of excitement for this upcoming season. The league has been growing, there are two new teams, 8 USL ‘junior MLS’ teams, and plenty of marquee names set to make their MLS debut (or return). We have seen the impact that strikes have had on other major sports such as baseball and hockey, and we have seen what a referee strike (briefly) did to the NFL. The ‘newness’ of MLS and that it is just beginning to really catch on suggests that any long-term work stoppage could prove detrimental to sustained growth and interest from the casual sports fan. Couple that with a potential mass exodus by top players, if the strike lasts, and the quality of players that could remain may cripple MLS. It would appear that the MLS has everything to lose if they hold out too much on the free agency. However, is that the inevitable conclusion?
MLS and their owners have one advantage that may prove to be the key factor. Given the low minimum salaries, it is likely that many of the players cannot afford an extensive work stoppage. That is, their paycheck might prove to be more important than free agency, especially if giving up free agency means increased minimums for players. Therefore, it is possible that the notion of internal free agency may have to wait until the next round of bargaining, when the players can afford to stand their ground more.
So, we all sit here, holding our breath, wondering if the Whitecaps will debut next weekend and THUMP Toronto FC.
What will you do if the season does not start, as scheduled, next weekend?
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