Just a day after members of the Major League Soccer Players Union publicly criticized MLS officials over their handling of labor negotiations, MLS is defending itself against claims that it is not taking talks over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement seriously.
MLS president Mark Abbott responded on Saturday to criticism from players that MLS hasn't done enough to help make a labor deal happen, telling SBI that the league has done quite a bit to try and get a deal to happen.
"They're mis-characterizing the scope, extent and seriousness of the proposals that the league has made," Abbott said. "We can't compel them to accept those proposals, we can't compel them to appreciate those proposals but I can tell you that they are significant. To say that the league is not serious is a complete mis-characterization of what has happened over the past few weeks, or months for that matter."
"There was some sense that the league hadn't been taking the negotiations seriously, and had not made serious proposals, and nothing could be further from the truth," said Abbott. "In terms of economics, the league has agreed to increase its spending on players by over $60 million.
"Obviously the country is going through some tough economic times, and our teams continue to have a lot of financial challenges and our owners continue to lose significant amounts of money, and we are still able to put a very, very significant economic proposal on the table."
Members of the Players Union ranging from Pat Onstad to Jimmy Conrad to Joe Cannon have stepped forward to criticize the league about not making concessions in negotiations, but according to Abbott, the league has made proposals on every issue being discussed, with the exception being free agency.
"Our proposal isn't just limited to economics," Abbott said. "We've made a proposal to guarantee a significant number of contracts. We've made a proposal to limit the number of options, unilateral options, the league has in player contracts.
"There have been some discussions about what happens to a player whose team no longer wants him and how the right of first refusal works. We've made proposals on those areas too, to address some of those concerns.
What we haven't done is made a proposal on free agency," Abbott said. "We can address some of these right of first refusal concerns without having free agency. Free agency is not something we think is good for the league."
Abbott stated that the league has negotiated openly to discuss several key issues, but insisted that free agency was not an option.
'When we first established the league we spent a lot of time studying other efforts to launch professional soccer leagues in the U.S. and unfortunately those have failed,' Abbott said. "We have studied some of the pitfalls of some other professional leagues, not just soccer leagues, but other leagues in North America, and we came up with a structure we thought gave us the best chance to have a league that is sustainable for the long term.
"We just don't see free agency being a part of that structure or something that would be good for the league. And so that's not something that's in the proposal or something we're prepared to do."
What happens next remains to be seen but the deadline for labor negotiations to continue is Thursday and it doesn't look like a deal will be hammered out in the next five days.