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MLS CBA Rumors: Younger Free Agents, Salary Increases and Charter Flights

Rumors are swirling as the current CBA is set to expire before the 2020 season.

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The current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between Major League Soccer and the MLS Players Association has been in effect since February 1, 2015. It’s set to expire on January 31, 2020, likely about a month before the start of the 2020 MLS season (if it in fact starts on time). That doesn’t mean MLS the and MLSPA are just sitting idly by as a potential work stoppage approaches.

Last week it was reported in The Athletic that negotiations started in the fall of 2018, well ahead of when the negotiations for the last CBA began. The talks are said to be “less formal” than in the past, but it’s still promising that both sides are talking so early. Below are a few highlights from the latest negotiations per sources quoted in The Athletic.

Younger Free Agents

If Sporting Kansas City fans know anything about free agents in MLS, it’s that they are old. Sporting KC have had their share of free agents busts from the first ever free agent signing in league history, Justin Mapp (43 league minutes for SKC), to their most recent free agent flop, Rodney Wallace (27 league minutes for SKC).

The current CBA was the first to allow free agents, but players must be at least 28-years-old and have eight years of MLS experience. In the late-2018 talks, the goal was to move the number to just 25-years-old and five seasons of experience. That’s much more in line with leagues like the National Football League which has a pretty exciting offseason full of roster movement.

Higher Salaries — at least at the bottom

Currently, the minimum salary in MLS is $56,250 for a player on the reserve roster. That’s the last six spots on the potentially 30-man roster. It’s often full of Homegrown player signings and MLS SuperDraft picks. The minimum salary for the supplemental and senior roster players is $72,500 (as a point of reference, the average league salary in 2019 is $414,803).

Obviously, the players want to be paid more, specifically at the bottom of the roster.

“One source said [to The Athletic] that the players are looking to raise the league-wide minimum to $100,000 per season by the expiration of the to-be-negotiated new CBA.”

The current CBA is five years long. That would mean, if they shoot for five years again, then by the 2024 season, the minimum could be up to $100,000. It’s not clear if that’s the reserve roster or for other roster slots, but neither seems unreasonable. I’d guess they mean the reserve roster since they use the words “league-wide.”

Charter Flights

Currently MLS allows a measly four charter flights per year. That’s four legs, not four round trip flights. In a country as large as the United States, that’s a bit challenging. That means most teams, outside of special circumstances, are forced to fly commercial flights to away games. They could be sitting next to you while you read this on a plane for all I know.

Obviously, players would like to be able to fly privately more often, but not at the expense of the above issues (and potentially other, unnamed issues).

“The players certainly want more charter flights — they’ve repeatedly characterized adding more of them as a matter of professionalism, not luxury — but sources said it’s unlikely that they’ll prioritize them over things like increased team salary budgets or raised minimum contracts. “

For his part, MLS Commissioner Don Garber seems interested in the idea and he definitely understands it. At the same time, he represents the owners, not the players.

“I get the charter issue,” Garber said. “And it’s been a discussion that we’ve had in both our current CBA and our future CBA. I’d love to be in a situation where our players can travel charter every game. I get the fact that we’re going across multiple time zones and our country is very large and that has an impact on our players, but it’s all about how do we allocate our resources and where do we and our players prioritize our available spending, because it’s not an unlimited pool of money.”

What’s Next?

Obviously, full blown negotiations are a bit away. It often seems like it takes a deadline to force these things to be completed.

MLS will experience their longest offseason in years when their season ends about a month earlier than it did in 2018. For teams like Sporting KC, who currently sit below the red line, that could mean their season ends in early October with no guarantee games will start up again in early March.

Obviously the above list of items is in an ideal world and there is no saying MLS will concede to all these points. Other things likely coming in a CBA negotiation is an increase in the salary cap (or salary budget if we want to be more accurate), change or full removal of the allocation order and changes to all the drafts and player designations around the league. That could also mean changes to things like Designated Player spots and Targeted Allocation Money (a concept that was invented after the current CBA had been negotiated).

We at The Blue Testament will continue to bring you coverage as information continues to become available. Of course The Athletic was the source of most of this information and if you’ve haven’t subscribed already, you might want to consider it. It’s becoming the premier place for soccer-specific coverage (and other sports), even if their Sporting KC coverage is limited. They are currently offering 40% off for a limited time.

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