MLS willing to kick off with expired contract

Major League Soccer is willing to start the season under the rules of its expired labour contract, as the owners hold to a hard line against free agency.

No intention to lock out players, Abbott says

Major League Soccer is willing to start the season under the rules of its expired labour contract, says league president Mark Abbott.

Abbott went public Saturday with comments about bargaining after players started to speak out a day earlier.

"We've communicated that the league doesn't have an intention of commencing a lockout," he said.

Training camps have started and the season opener is scheduled for March 25, when the expansion Philadelphia Union is at Seattle. MLS informed the union of its decision last month, putting the onus on players to decided whether to strike for the first time.

"We absolutely hope they wouldn't make that decision," Abbott said.

Union executive director Bob Foose did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The league's five-year collective agreement expired Jan. 31, but the sides have twice extended bargaining. Talks resume Monday in Washington, and the current extension runs to Thursday.

Players were quoted in several outlets as saying little progress had been made in talks. Abbott said the owners have proposed giving an additional $60 million US to players during a five-year deal.

"The owners already lose money. It's a question of adding to those losses," he said.

Income for players averaged $147,945 US at the start of last season, according to the union. But the median was $88,000, meaning half of the 323 players listed earned less.

Players want increased freedom of movement within the league and don't like that most contracts are not guaranteed. In the single-entity structure of the MLS, which launched in 1996, all players sign with the league rather than individual teams.

"We have made a proposal that would guarantee a significant number of contracts — not all contracts, but a significant number of them," Abbott said.

"To characterize the league as not taking the players' concerns seriously is just factually incorrect. What we have not made a proposal on, and what the league is not prepared to do, is to have free agency within the league. The league created its structure after really studying other efforts to launch professional soccer leagues in the United States, which unfortunately failed."