It’s been several weeks since the last big update in regards to the negotiations over the collective bargaining agreement between the MLS and the players. Media reports had discussed the players and owners making some progress, and even returning to the table again to negotiate despite the fact that they had extended the deadline two or three times by now. The general belief was that the players and the league (which owns all player contracts) would somehow get along nicely, and everything would be settled.
Things changed last night when the player’s union voted 383-2 in favor of a strike if there is no contract by March 23rd. While this doesn’t mean the league will necessarily go on strike, Pat Onstead, goalkeeper for the Houston Dynamo and one of the representatives for the players said that they are a long way from coming to agreement on the current CBA. From this moment, the league and players have about 11 days to come to a deal, otherwise a strike will be called. If a strike were to be called, this could be severely detrimental to soccer in the United States. With the World Cup less than 100 days away, the MLS was going to use the interest in the World Cup again this year to try and boost attendance at league matches. A strike could cause the loss of this new potential influx of casual soccer fans, as well as drive away some of the existing fans of the league. While fans may not be able to to go attend soccer matches, there is a wealth of substitutes in terms of other professional sport leagues in North America, as well as easy access to satellite and cable broadcasts of foreign leagues. Who knows, an MLS strike combined with the World Cup could lead to a boost in viewership for the Premier League and other European clubs.
One thing the MLS strike will probably not have a potential effect will probably be the U.S. performance at World Cup. Already, most of the squad (especially the starters) ply their trade overseas, mostly in the Premier League, Bundesleague, and other top leagues within Europe. An MLS strike will probably make U.S. manager Bob Bradley more likely to pick players from leagues other than the MLS. Because of this potential strike, Everton is already on the move, trying to extend the loan of U.S. international Landon Donovan. The loan was set to expire this week, but with a strike looming, it is quite possible the loan will be extended.
So set your clocks, we have 11 days to see how this drama will unfold. Personally, the MLS going on strike will not make much of a difference to me, even as a soccer fan living in the U.S. It has been almost five years since I have attended a live match, and I have not bothered watching a televised MLS match other than playoffs in that period as well. I think more and more American’s are becoming fans of European clubs, and with ESPN now showing the Premier League and Champions League, many fans will simply switch over to those channels, as not only can they watch a higher level of soccer, but they can now see more and more American’s playing in those leagues.