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Report: Federal mediators called in as MLS union talks stall

DonGarberMLSStateoftheLeague1 (USATodaySports)


The negotiations between Major League Soccer and its players have apparently reached an impasse and outside help is being called in.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service has been jointly requested to help steer collective bargaining agreement talks between the league and the MLS Players Union, ESPN reported on Thursday.

The decision to bring in federal mediators, something MLS Commissioner Don Garber hinted was coming last week, suggests that the two sides at the table are still far away from reaching an agreement.

Federal mediators declined to specify when they entered the negotiation process or provide details of future meetings, but confirmed they “have begun the mediation process in the negotiations between the parties.”

Federal mediators were called in to help with MLS negotiation in 2010 and played a key role in reaching an agreement. This time around, however, player free agency has become a major point of contention, with both sides seemingly far apart on the issue.

“Our system is one that our owners fought hard to protect,” Garber said last week. “It’s one that they bought into, particularly the new owners who have bought into the league, and that’s that our owners will not bid against each other for player services. And that’s a key aspect of our entire system.”

Garber’s comments sat in sharp contrast to those from MLS Players Union executive director Bob Foose, who said player free agency was necessary for an agreement.

“There is no negotiation going on at this point with regard to free agency,” Foose said the week before Garber’s comments about free agency. “That makes it impossible to get a deal done. If that’s going to stay the same, I certainly don’t see a deal getting done.”

The addition of a federal mediator means an outside party will join negotiations as a neutral observer and serve as a liaison between parties. Both the league and the players union have hinted a work stoppage is possible.

The current CBA expired two weeks ago and if a new one isn’t in place before the season begins in March, a work stoppage could happen.


What do you think of this latest development? Is it a positive sign or a bad one that a federal mediator has joined the discussion? How would you like to see negotiations resolved?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. But what about the little guy? (Because I’m such a champion for labor, I think he should continue playing for a barista salary. After all, I am a pretty good tipper… what, doesn’t everyone want my autographed head shot?)

  2. I hope the players do hold out and strike if necessary. The players Union will never has as much leverage as to do right now (2 new franchises, new TV rights, season following a successful USA World Cup). As a fan of the league, we need at least restricted free agency and a plan to substantially increase the salary cap.

    • No, we don’t need restricted free agency. We need the players to shut up & do what I and the Board of Governors tell them to do.

  3. Free agency doesn’t carry much risk for the owners as long as there’s a salary cap and DP limit.

    The players who benefit are the better non DP paid.
    What the owners are afraid of is full no restrictions free agency.

  4. Hating on Garber = low intelligence. He is paid for and speaking for the owners. Hate them. Offer the players a higher “bottom” salary and then increase international roster spots, because if you are really worth more there is nothing to lose and they won’t replace you with skilled labor. Oh wait, you aren’t getting paid much because no one else will pay you more. I do agree that they should guarantee contracts. No player should have to move their family after just moving their family. You made the deal, now both parties live with it. Raise the cap, yes. Give MLS players with some number of years free agency, yes. Make it a reasonable number of years. Don’t think years of monetary loss matter if the club is making money now? Try opening your own business, you will change your mind. In the end, if the health of the league is not top priority, everyone loses. Players pretend that they have invested something? No. You played a game for money while the owner risked something. If you think that you could have made more doing something else, that was your decision. Don’t play martyr with me because you did what you wanted and not what paid the most. I did what paid most, took care of my family and played in local amature leauges at my own expense. Not feeling it for you. if you are worth more, go outside MLS. If no one wants you. Get a job like me and play on the weekends. Oh and you can always go to NASL. Forgot, they won’t pay you more. Why? You aren’t really worth it. Always remember, average doesn’t demand, it thanks. Because there is more average just waiting to replace you.

  5. Just create some sort of free agency and call it something else . Use MLS’ “make-up rule” crystal ball to good use!

    • Please follow the steps below:

      1) Examine the growth of MLS during the past 20 years
      2) Examine the growth of LIga MX druing this same period
      3) Tell me why you think MLS would want to change doing exactly what they have been doing

      Everybody who follows the business side of the game (including increasingly-savvy Liga MX administrators) knows that MLS has a vastly better growth model than Liga MX. While Liga MX is still the top league in the region, the lead is becoming increasingly slender.

      There is a reason why Liga MX is considering inviting MLS teams to compete in Copa MX. There is a reason why they are sending their scouts up here to recruit Mexican-American players.They know which way the wind is blowing.

      It’s a matter of time and basic economics. MLS will overtake Liga MX.

      • Nice try, amigo. We’re already the most watched soccer league in the United States. Chivas games televised in the U.S. have ratings right up there with nationally televised Yankee games. Our standard is good, certainly much better than MLS as we prove in CCL every year. We draw good attendance and our stadiums are up to standard in many places. We’re compatible with the international calendar. Even our play-by-play announcers are better.

        MLS, by comparison, will not be a “Top 10 league by 2022”. How will they achieve this, exactly, if they stick with the status quo? After 20 years, MLS underperforms in every measurable category. Seattle is about the only team showing world class match day receipts. TV, corporate sponsorship, selling players… MLS lags far behind. That new MLS TV deal… for 8 years… it’s really not much of a boost overall on a per club basis, particularly with expansion teams diluting the share. So that’s basically 8 more years of status quo. Saying you’ll be a “top league someday” is wishful thinking, and not at all fact, especially when other leagues are not stagnant.

        Perhaps the reason we send scouts north has more to do with poaching whatever talent you have, because the game is growing in the States, regardless of what MLS does. In fact, it grows in spite of it. As for MLS in Copa MX… amigo, we just want your Yankee dollar.

        What MLS has is a vastly superior way of controlling and underpaying labor. If other leagues are interested in anything, it’s likely that… unless they actually want good football. And spare us your parity myth. In your league, parity is code word for mediocrity. Who has won 3 out of the last 4 MLS Cups and ask yourself how many other teams really had a legit chance to do it? There is no parity.

        Gringo, Señor Don has your snowed.

      • Yawn. All you have done is state a bunch of points I have already conceded. Yes, Liga MX is bigger than MLS currently. And it probably will be for a few more years, at least.

        We are talking about growth achieved and growth potential. MLS has not even been around 20 years, and continues to exceed every growth expectation.precious little. Liga MX has reached its apex…. it has nowhere left to expand. MLS has a massive market to tap. Doesn’t matter how long it takes– it will happen. Inevitable.

        It’s very simple. USL has figured this out, and so has Liga MX– if you wanna take advantage of the rocket ship growth that’s coming in North American soccer, you had best tether yourself to MLS however possible. Otherwise, you will be left in the dust with NASL and the rest of the Cosmos fans.

        I do congratulate you heartily on your attempt to sound Mexican Straight outta Hempstead.

      • Everything you say is true in the current state of affairs. However, single entity or not, MLS will overtake Liga MX soon.

        Liga MX is what it is, and its growth is fairly limited because of its established place in Mexican culture. The potential growth of MLS and the soccer culture in the US is exponential.

        Our younger soccer loving generations will leave you in the dust soon. Bank on it.

  6. We don’t want FA, even in restricted form, because single-entity definitely won’t hold up in court anymore and our tax loss carry forward pyramid scheme won’t work anymore either. Plus, I just have a control fetish.

  7. Before starting their work, the mediators will have to go through the allocation order and then will be subject to a blind draw.

  8. Not for the first time, I have to wonder if there are a lot more independently wealthy folks out there than I had imagined. How is it that so many folks cannot or will not identify with the players? MLS salaries are constrained in ways that few other soccer players’ are. And to add insult to injury, after proclaiming for all to hear that the league cannot afford to pay more in salaries, the league goes out and hires a bunch of players, mostly foreigners, for eye watering amounts of money. In our individualistic society, nearly everyone has the freedom to apply for jobs with other employers in the same field, but not MLS players. And even if MLS players do choose to go outside the country, MLS claims, under some circumstances, the right to decide where they will play if they return to the US. And finally, we all know that the “single entity” notion is one of those legal fictions that serve only the interests of management, not the employees or anyone else.
    If you care about the future of US soccer (and that means, really, supporting American soccer players) you have to be in favor of making employment in MLS as attractive as possible for young American players. So raise the salary cap (and probably phase out designated players and distribute some of that money to other players and spend the rest of developing young players). Institute free agency. Consider anyone not eligible for the US (and Canadian) national teams as foreigners, and phase in tighter limits on foreigners. Clean up the mess that is the lower divisions and institute similar policies there. Create real working relationships between MLS and the lower divisions so younger players can get playing time in a professional environment… and so on.

    • “Consider anyone not eligible for the US (and Canadian) national teams as foreigners, and phase in tighter limits on foreigners.”

      You can’t do that without breaking U.S. employment laws. It’s a non-starter.

      • I am not an employment law expert, but I do know that, for foreigners to work in the US, the potential employer has to initiate the process to obtain a work visa. That would seem to allow the MLS to limit how many non-citizens it employs. There may be some citizens who are not eligible for the national team, but it is safe to assume that there would always be roster spots available for them.

      • That is true in most cases, but the sequence for nearly all foreign players in MLS is that MLS helps them get a work visa and then they get a green card based on their employment.

  9. Hopefully, both sides see that the momentum and growth that MLS has seen over the last few years will be jeopardized big-time by any work stoppage, and agree to keep playing while the federal mediators do their work. I’m not taking sides, because I’m not knowledgeable enough about the league, I just want to see some soccer next month!

    • Momentum and growth for whom?

      Players feel as if they’ve been left out of Kraft & Kroenke’s windfall
      (don’t fall for $100million losses BS).

  10. What if a “form” of free agency included the player who is being traded receives a large portion of fees / allocation dollars / whatever the hell the league calls it. It won’t be true free agency, but at least that player gains something from having to move his family to another time zone.

  11. It’s good news that Feds are now involved…..maybe they can get this BS straight so we can start the season on time. I just wanna see the league kick it up a notch and start paying the lower 3rd a much stronger salary. Free agency is doubtful.

  12. Wow, just raise the salary cap and from their things can get wAy better.
    By raising the cap things should get tastier, the average salary should be 60 to 70 thousand and that’s way better than 50 thousand.
    The problem is how many players of the team will actually get paid the minimum wage and if you raise the DP number you also need to raise cap, it’s not rocket science.
    More dps, higher salary 🙂
    Raise the salary cap garber,

  13. Does IBM allow different departments to bid against each other for engineering talent?

    Does the autoworkers union allow GM to pay some workers who do the same job to be paid more than other workers?

    As far as I can tell a number of players have quit MLS and joined other teams in other leagues without any problem. Don’t soccer players already have more control over their destination than any other sport?

    I’m confused about what free agency even means here. If you are good enough why not go play for Barcelona, or Liverpool? I don’t think MLS is going to stop you. Seems to me the players are fighting for something they already have.

    Seems to me if a player signs up for MLS they know what they are signing up for. They can always play in the NASL. As far as I know each team is a separate entity.

    If I were the players I would focus on getting the largest raises possible for minimum salary and the overall salary cap. That will increase the quality of the league.

    On the other hand. Maybe they are afraid they’ll lose their jobs. Hadn’t thought of that.

      • Yeah, I’ve been wondering about MLS’ ardent anti-free agency stance from this perspective too. My wife used to work for a huge aerospace company and applied several times for advertised jobs in different divisions in the same company. Each time, her manager came back with either an increased salary or increased responsibilities to keep her around. I don’t know why MLS can’t operate this way and still keep single entity.

    • +1 Very good post. Increasing the cap and increasing the minimum salary are exactly what the players should be pushing for…. and realistically, this is probably what they will get.

  14. The players are playing with fire on this one, the owners can wait them out, Free Agency is the silliest thing to hang your hat on at this juncture of the league. And let’s be honest it truly only affects maybe 3% of the players so to act like its the last bastion to changing the league and moving it forward is just ridiculous. 94 strike took baseball 5 yes to recover from, the protracted NBA season it took them 5 to 6 yes to recover from that the NHL was held together with its TV contract but will still need a couple more years to get back to where it was, a strike sets MLS back at least 10 yrs, but hey Dominic Oduro can play for another team but this time its his choice.

  15. I dont believe the free agency is the actual line, it would require ending single entity, which isnt going to happen. Players will get (and benefit more from) guaranteed contracts, more control/right to refuse trades, and of course a higher salary cap.

    • “it would require ending single entity”

      I disagree. Every team is still confined by the salary cap. If teams get into a so-called bidding war over a player, it will be over minute differences in salary. Teams can only allocate so much of their cap space to a player before they hit a point of diminishing returns. This isn’t the EPL where money grows in oil wells.

      • It’s not about bidding wars over the typical player (which is controlled by cap space) – it’s about bidding wars over the DP’s (not controlled by cap space).

        At that point, MLS should just say that they will put in a flat rate for DP’s and whatever the club wants to spend over that amount will be governed by the club owners. Owner’s can outbid each other if they want, but it won’t be league money.

      • I think we’re talking about two different issues. DPs enter the league through various methods (discovery, allocation, Garber’s Ouija board, oracle bone reading, etc.).

        It’s the low- and middle-income guys who are fighting for free agency. When a player’s contract is up, he’s at the whim of the re-entry draft, so there’s very little chance he’ll end up with the team of his choosing. Right now, it’s reverse order of standings from the previous season, so if, for example, an out-of-contract player wants to sign with LA or Seattle, there is very little chance of that occurring. Players have no say in where they’re signed.

  16. Free agency is a must. The league needs to bite the bullet on this one. I am more excited for the 2015 MLS season than anyone else but I am 100% backing the players. Stay strong lads.

  17. Federal mediator: Your single entity system is a sham designed to reduce competition. If the players sue, you will lose.

    Owners: Ok, you may have free agency

      • Keep reading, they did not uphold single entity, in fact they said it was a hybrid, did not rule on it, and that was before DPs

      • I read on it about 2 months ago that mentioned that MLS manages to fit under the definition of Single Entity by owning everyone’s contract and having each team operate essentially by different departments under the same company but… and this is a big but ,,,is that since DP’s are partially paid and owned by each individual team that means that MLS isn’t really a Single Entity.

      • This is the big question…. DP’s are kind of the “grey area” in all of this. The point you are making is very similar to what is discussed in the Marquette Law Review piece I posted elsewhere (I”ll post it again here anyway).

        What I have been able to discover from talking to a few people involved is that DP’s are, in fact, paid entirely by the league. The teams do fund the league in order to cover the incremental cost, but the players paychecks, even the guys like Kaka and Beckham, are paid solely by the league, for what it’s worth (contrary to what is stated in the article).

    • Not to sure about that. In Fraser v Major League Soccer, the court actually backed MLS as a single entity. It was an anti trust case and the court found that as a single entity, MLS could not conspire with itself. The case is more than 15 years old, and things may have changed, but the players union would have to sue, and their lawyers are probably more knowledgeable about their chances than some schmoe internet poster like me.

      • Sounds like some of you may already have read this, but here is a good read from Marquette U Law Review about this topic, written shortly after the DP rule came into play.

        The writer actually makes the case that the DP rule could weaken the league’s case for single-entity. However, he makes the assumption (which I now understand to be erroneous) that clubs pay DP’s directly. From what I have learned, MLS acutally funds and “signs the checks” for the full salary of all DP’s. From a legal/accounting sense, this might very well change the argument.

        Nonetheless, it’s a good summary read on the topic, if you have not already seen it:

    • Federal mediator is there to ensure there is continued dialogue between the two parties negotiating the CBA. It’s a nice story you are bringing but that will never happen.

  18. “It’s one that they bought into, particularly the new owners who have bought into the league, and that’s that our owners will not bid against each other for player services. And that’s a key aspect of our entire system.”

    So only one team bid for Dempsey? Bradley? Altidore? Jones?????

    • Garber is a farce. When Clint thought about coming back to MLS, he only considered Seattle, LA, and Toronto. Sounds a lot like free agency to me.

      • Those situations are perfect examples of free agency. The Euro guys coming back over enter the league with a clean slate contract-wise. If not for the opaque allocation processes, Dempsey, Jozy, Bradley, and Jones were free agents by any definition. No one owned their rights or had “first right of refusal.” They different offers and options on the table.

        One wonders: Why must a player earn seven figures to have freedom of choice? Why can’t the median-earning guys and lower have a say in where they play?

      • Well, technically they shouldn’t have had “different options on the table.” Right? they should have just fallen into the allocation order when they signed. So if Dempsey wants to come back and Chicago has the first spot in the allocation order – Chicago should get him. At least I think that’s how they say it works. Now if Chicago wants to trade that spot that’s a whole other consideration way above my pay grade.

      • makes sense, except if the player coming over does not want to go to that city/team so therefore does not join MLS at all. it’s imperfect, I get it, but the reality is so, isn’t it?

  19. Garbers “particularly our new owners” argument is weak and either paints the new owners as unsophisticated and not capable of due diligence, or it paints Garber himself as a bait and switch salesman.

    Everyone saw free agency coming as a potential sticking point.

    • free agency cant really happen within single entity. there may be some lite version of it as a result, but its not happening in the full sense

      • As Ives has suggested, it would be great for the owners to use free-agency to reward players who have made a commitment to MLS for X number of years of service–playing a vital role in building the very league they’ve invested their hard earned dollars in. My experience in the corporate world is that employers usually like to offer incentives for loyalty. Maybe MLS is different…I guess we’ll see. I stand with the players but mostly I just really hope the season starts on time, can’t wait for the best season ever!!!

      • Ives isn’t the only one promoting FA to those who have shown commitment to the league. It’s a great idea and a nice compromise imo. we’ll see

  20. Two and a half to three weeks from now is when we’ll see what the future holds for the progression and successful development of MLS and soccer at large in this nation. Have to say I’m in the player’s corner regarding this specific CBA standoff…

    • It’s common practice to bring in federal mediators, so I’m not sure what you mean. Whatever helps to get this deal done is totally fine with me.

      • It’s common practice to bring in federal mediators when a strike has gone on for an extended period of time, or earlier if it is for the critical health and well being of the country. To come in before a strike happens, for possibly the fifth most popular sports/entertainment league in the country is absurd.

        The Saul Alinsky petulant “by any means necessary” to getting what you want is, at best, myopic.

      • Federal mediators can be brought in at the request of the two parties at any time – from their own website:

        “Under the Labor-Management Act of 1947, FMCS provides free mediation services in contract negotiation disputes between employers and their unionized employees. All the parties have to do is make a request.”

      • Federal mediators were brought in back in 2010 as well. Strike was averted with just days until the season kicked off.

      • What’s myopic is tossing a capitalist a steak and expecting him to share. MLS is a business. Owners are in it for the money, obviously. Nothing wrong with the union holding its ground on the simple principle that players deserve decent money and some say in where they play when their contracts are up. Federal mediation was successful in 2010. Why dump on it now?

      • Whoa there, black-and-white binary guy. I know you got excited at what you figured was low-hanging fruit, but it’s a bit more complicated than you hoped.

        Capitalism is a fine economic system. I was referring to capitalists (noun) (read: investors, owners of sports franchises), not every human being living in the Western world.

        These owners are in it for the profit, not to make friends with players. Left to their own volition, these capitalists/investors/owners will seek to maximize profit and minimizing expenditures. That’s capitalism (the kind you were thinking of when you get hot under the collar). It’s the union’s job to get these athlete’s an equitable deal.

      • and of course the players and their lawyer-agents are only in it for the good of the game.

        MLS has some vision (however myopic) for the future and growing the game. The players want to maximize salaries for the best players now, and could care less about anything else, including the median salary point.

      • Dave, there is a very real possibility that you earn more than the minimum MLS salary. If you think fighting for something better than $48k a year is greedy, then we have two diametrically different opinions on the matter.

      • For a person in their early 20’s (as a majority of the players earning the league minimum are), I am not sure that earning $48k is really anything to gripe about. This is not poverty-level wages, and these guys could all ply their trade elsewhere if they felt they are being paid below-market (there are a couple of dozen leagues that pay the same or better).

        They could also go do something else entirely. I reject the argument that these guys should be earning “mid career” wages commensurate with other professions. At the age of 24-25, you can still “start from zero” and do whatever you want with your life. They haven’t given up anything.

        Personally, I think it’s good for the league to raise the min salary a bit. But I don’t thnik they players themselves are getting hosed. They have plenty of options if it doesn’t suit them.

      • “and of course the players and their lawyer-agents are only in it for the good of the game.”

        are we supposed to believe that the owners are only in it for the good of the game? Please.

    • its not like federal mediators are doing this instead of working for peace in the Ukraine or for ISIS to disband and become global capitalists.

      this is what they do, and labor agreements are important, even in the face of the deadly things I mentioned

    • FA is so stupid and meaningless when there is a hard cap. Yes, blah blah DP’s whatever, so exclude DP’s from FA. So easy. This is dumb.


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