On Thursday night, the MLS season got off to a rocking start when the expansion Philadelphia Union played their first-ever game against last year’s newbie Seattle Sounders FC at Qwest Field. Seattle picked up where it left off last year by posting a 2-0 victory over a Union team that tackled hard and even had a player sent off in the 40th minute but otherwise looked like they are in for a long season. But, while the story is the league’s 15th season starting this season with a loaded slate of games, the real story is that last night’s game almost wasn’t to be. Late last weekend, the MLS Players Union and the owners, after months of hard deliberation and threats to strike coming from the players, agreed to a new 5-year collective bargaining agreement. While the players didn’t get everything they were looking for (reports were that the players were fully prepared to strike on the 22nd and the owners were already lining up replacement players), a shock deal was agreed to in the afternoon of March 21st.
It was a great thing for MLS and soccer in this country for a collective bargaining agreement to be hammered out, avoiding a strike. In this, a World Cup year where more eyes than ever are tuning into the game of soccer in preparation for the world’s biggest tournament, it would have been a dagger in the heart of the league to have a strike dominate a season when they should be playing in front of raucous crowds in Seattle, Philadelphia, Toronto, DC and the rest of MLS. The agreement gives players more freedom to move between clubs (although there is no straight free agency that you see in other American sports leagues), increased salary caps and salaries, and guaranteed contracts for players over the age of 24 or who have 3 years of service. Kudos to the players and the owners for strapping on their helmets and striving to get the best deal done for their particular sides, but for having the courage and wisdom to strike a compromise that will benefit both sides and this great league.