The news Tuesday out of the CBA negotiation session between the players and Major League Soccer was not good.
The session was closed-door, but MLS Players Union Executive Director Bob Foose did not paint a pretty picture. He told Steven Goff of the Washington Post:
"We remain very far apart on important issues. We will continue at it but it's difficult to see a path to an agreement at this point. We fundamentally disagree with them over how the guys who have built this league should be treated."
So what's this all about? Well, the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is more or less a contract between the players and the league that sets working conditions and institutes certain rules and procedures for the business side of MLS. They have a CBA in all of the major professional sports leagues in America.
The current CBA is set to expire on Jan. 31. However, through a sort of informal agreement, the league and players will continue normal business relations until the start of the regular season in early March. At that point however, if an agreement isn't reached, the most likely outcome is a work stoppage. That's the doomsday scenario.
The primary issue at stake is free agency, which I'm not going to tackle here. Our sister blog Sounder at Heart has done an excellent job summing that up. What I do want to look at though is if and how any of this will impact Orlando City SC.
First, there's talk that the rosters may be cut down to 25 players instead of 30. This could clearly be a major change for Orlando, which has already accumulated 29 players. The club would have to loan more players than expected to USL Pro affiliate Louisville City FC, and perhaps even release a player or two.
There was also talk about adding a fourth (or even fifth) Designated Player spot, but Orlando City is only using two of the three currently allowed anyway (Kaka and Bryan Rochez). It remains to be seen just how much money owner Flávio Augusto da Silva is willing to spend in addition to Kaka, but there's nothing to indicate that an extra DP allowance would have a huge impact for Orlando.
In the spirit of increasing transparency, the players may also push to end the Allocation Order system. That can only benefit Orlando City, as we're currently last on the list!
Realistically, I'm not sure I see any of the potential changes affecting Orlando City very much as a team (unless there's a work stoppage, obviously). Salaries should increase and roster rules will change, but I'm not sure there's anything that will have a particularly large impact on the Lions. The fear of a lockout or strike is very real though, and I don't get the impression the players are bluffing.
After being a part of the #CBA talks last time, I get a real sense this group of players is ready/confident enough to strike 4 FreeAgency.— Taylor Twellman (@TaylorTwellman) January 22, 2015
It's difficult to believe that the league or the players would be willing to sacrifice the incredible momentum that MLS has built over the last year. My prediction is that the CBA will get done in the first day or two of March, and Orlando City will play its first match against NYCFC on March 8, as scheduled.
As a fan, I'm rooting for the players just as much of the next guy. They deserve better wages, more transparency, and the right to choose where they play.
Still, the league is where it is now due to a conservative, controlled growth approach that relies on its single-entity nature. There's no one perfect solution here, but it's certain that this will be a monumental decision for the future of the league. More importantly, it's absolutely essential that MLS avoid a work stoppage at this critical juncture.