Here's the issue that might prevent a strike when MLS, players renegotiate CBA this offseason

Doug McIntyre

ORLANDO, Fla. — Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber and MLS players association chief Bob Foose both expressed confidence Wednesday that a work stoppage will be avoided when the two sides sit down to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement in advance of the league’s 25th season.

“A strike is never the goal and it’s not our goal,” Foose told reporters here hours before the annual All-Star Game. “If we each come to the table and work hard to find common ground, I’m very confident that we can reach an agreement that will benefit both the player pool and the league.”

Garber was even more optimistic. “I’m convinced that we and the union are will reach an agreement that’s going to make sense for both MLS, its owners and for the players,” he said.

The current CBA expires in January. Many of the same items negotiated in 2015 will once again be on the table: How much to increase the league’s salary cap by? How many seasons must a player must play to reach free agency? But perhaps the biggest sticking point this time around will be how players travel.

“Players fully understand and acknowledge the investment that owners have made in this league over time,” Foose said. “And it’s going to have to continue. And the most glaring place where we see that needs to continue in this CBA is travel. If we’re going to truly compete, if we’re going to be a league of choice, guys have to be flying charter, if not every flight, pretty close as fast as we can possibly get there.”

Jul 31, 2019; Orlando, FL, USA; MLS commissioner Don Garber before the 2019 MLS All Star Game at Exploria Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Commissioner Don Garber (center) and Major League Soccer are in for a showdown with the Players Association ahead of next season. (Reuters)

As it stands, MLS teams are limited to just a handful of charter flights per season. The overwhelming majority of the time, they sit in economy on regularly scheduled commercial flights. That’s led to a few embarrassing situations this season, like when a cancelled departure resulted in the Montreal Impact arriving in New England just hours before an April game against the Revolution.

“This isn’t a player perk, a player benefit,” Foose said. “This is about, very simply, how we move athletes across abnormally large distances in the middle of a very congested calendar … it doesn’t work the way we’re doing it now.”

Even when planes leave on time, crucial recovery time is lost. Connecting flights are frequently required. And visiting teams are often forced to remain in the city they traveled to until the day after a match rather than fly home the same night.

According to the MLSPA, if teams used charters exclusively, it would result in more than 10 extra training days per club per season. Increasingly, players have taken to social media to vent their frustration. On Wednesday, Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan — a veteran of the English Premier League and U.S. men’s national team — said that the product on the field is directly tied to how teams travel.

“They go hand in hand,” Guzan said. “Charter flights allow you to get to your destination much quicker in a way that allows you to be focused solely on the game and physically, you feel much better when you step on the field. It’s the same thing after the game.”

Still, using charters exclusively would increase expenses by millions of dollars per team every year. Foose acknowledged as much. “It is expensive,” he said. “This is real money. We understand that and don’t take that lightly.”

One way or another, teams will charter more under the next CBA. How much more remains to be seen. “I’d love to be in a situation where our players can travel charter to every game,” Garber said. “But it’s all about how do we allocate our resources and where do we and our players prioritize the available spending. Because it’s not an unlimited pool of money.”

Foose argues that owners ought to view investing in charters as they have training facilities, which have sprouted up all over the circuit in recent years.

“This is a fundamental building block if you’re trying to be a world class league,” he said. “Overwhelmingly our owners have done that and built those facilities. They need to now turn their attention to the travel issue in this upcoming negotiation.”

How much the owners are willing to give could impact their willingness to agree to other demands. “That’s what negotiations are all about,” Garber said. “It’s about give and take.”

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