With little evidence of progress just nine days from Orlando City SC's opening match, and seven days until the league's first kick, we've officially reached the time for panic in the Major League Soccer CBA negotiations.
Sure, we've known that this would likely come down to the wire for a while. That doesn't make it any less terrifying. Also, predictably, ESPN is reporting that free agency is the sticking point in the negotiations. The players have said from the beginning that they will strike if they don't get some form of free agency, and it appears the owners are still not willing to budge on the matter.
The most troubling development is that things actually appear to have gotten worse in the last week or so. On Wednesday. Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen called free agency a "waste of time" and a "go-nowhere conversation."
Jeff Carlisle of ESPN.Com had this to say in an article this week:
"A league source who asked not to be identified indicated that MLS and its owners remain staunchly opposed to any kind of internal free agency. In addition to controlling costs, there is a desire on the part of MLS to protect the single entity system upon which it is based."
To be fair, Carlisle also notes there there has been significant progress made on issues like the salary cap and minimum salary. However, that progress means nothing if the disagreement over free agency leads us to a work stoppage.
For their part, every player I've spoken to, and every player I've seen interviewed, has said to a man since day one that there will be a work stoppage if they don't get free agency.
Me: "If you don't get some form of free agency, will there be a work stoppage?" Tally Hall: "Yes" Tally is the player rep for Orlando. #MLS— Andrew Marcinko (@FootyAmerica) January 23, 2015
Nat Borchers, the long-time RSL Player Rep who now plays for the Portland Timbers, gave a lengthy interview on the subject to The Salt Lake Tribune. Of particular note, he was asked whether he though the players would consider playing as scheduled even if a new CBA had not yet been reached.
"That's a great question and I think it definitely just depends on how well things go in the next month of negotiations, but I wouldn't anticipate if we don't have anything on paper about free agency from the league, I wouldn't anticipate us being able to start on time."
This back-and-forth bluster was all fun and games two months from opening day, but with the deadline looming, it's truly troubling to see the sides so deeply entrenched in their positions. We've covered it before, but it bears repeating: Any sort of work stoppage would be a disaster of epic proportions for Orlando City and Major League Soccer.