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It’s time for MLS to end the lockout threats, and let the players play

If nothing changes, the lockout begins tonight

SOCCER: OCT 28 MLS - Chicago Fire FC at Philadelphia Union
The Fire’s Jonathan Bornstein
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After another extension Thursday, tonight at 11:59 ET is now the deadline for Major League Soccer’s owners to reach a deal on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the MLS Players Association. If there’s no deal and no extension to the negotiating period, the MLS owners will terminate the CBA and lock out the players.

The owners want to extend the current CBA by two seasons, meaning if the league sees a boost in popularity and revenue after the 2026 World Cup, the players won’t see any of that until after the 2027 season. Because of big losses in revenue last season caused by the pandemic, ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle reports the owners are looking for between $100 million and $110 million in concessions. The players are reportedly offering $53 million in concessions over the life of the CBA.

To put it another way, the two sides are $57 million apart over the life of the CBA. Divide that by six seasons and spread it across 30 clubs, and you’re looking at less than $500,000 per club per season.

That’s ridiculous and overly greedy.

Unlike many other clubs, Chicago Fire owner Joe Mansueto hasn’t laid off a single employee since the pandemic began. He wasn’t allowed to talk about the CBA when we last spoke, but I get the sense from talking to him he’s the kind of guy who would want this deal done so the players can get on the field. That’s apparently not the case with some of his fellow owners, though. The Athletic’s Sam Stejskal and Paul Tenorio (who are both must-read on stuff like this) wrote a great piece outlining why many owners are probably comfortable with the idea of a lockout—at least until summer.

Sadly, it seems like the owners hold way more leverage here. Think about a guy like Fire defender Jonathan Bornstein. He’s 36, and he’s said he wants to play until he’s 40. Even if he makes it that far, he’ll never reap the rewards of the next CBA. What about his fellow left back Miguel Navarro? He came to the U.S. last year during a pandemic, had to play through the stop-and-start 2020, and now he’s facing a lockout? What about Fabian Herbers? He’s one of the smartest guys out there, and will have success at whatever he does post-soccer. At what point is he done dealing with this stuff? These guys have short careers relative to their lifetimes. There are only so many years you can play professional soccer.

If MLS really wants to be one of the biggest leagues in the world, at some point it’ll have to put an end to the ridiculous quirks that make the league unique, and actually, seriously let the clubs compete with one another. Enough with the salary cap, and the GAM, the discovery rights and the territorial rights. Enough with teams where one guy makes $5 million, and another guy has to have a roommate to make ends meet. Enough with threats to lock out the players. Open it up and do it the right way.

End the lockout threat. Let the players play.