Last week, the Major League Soccer Players Union (MLSPU) and Major League Soccer (MLS) came to an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement. It has recently been revealed that part of the agreement is that MLS clubs are now required to feed their players both breakfast and lunch, as opposed to just lunch as in the previous agreement.
While many may scoff at this provision, the fact that some clubs have not provided breakfast for players shows the lack of professionalism that some MLS clubs display. Whether it is a lack of training facilities, no immediate interest in building a soccer specific stadium, or other essentials of a professional club, some MLS clubs act minor league.
Some clubs have gone out of their way to act like a major club and one of those is Orlando City SC. Even while in USL Pro, the country's third division, Orlando City had its own training facility and played at a stadium in which they were the only tenant. Despite the fact that the club had better facilities than many MLS clubs while in the lower league, Orlando City only improved the quality of player benefits when the club entered MLS.
Upon entrance into Major League Soccer, Orlando City took control of the Seminole County Sports Training Center, a professional sports training facility in Sanford. The top sports training facility in central Florida, it has previously hosted several professional sports teams, including the 1996 U.S. women's Olympic soccer team. Completing an agreement with Seminole County to acquire exclusive access to the facility for 10 years, the club immediately renovated the facility to make it specific to the club's needs.
In addition to the new facility, the Lions also went above and beyond what was required for their players and what several other clubs do for their team. Each day, Orlando City provides its players with breakfast upon arrival to the facility, prior to morning training. The early session is followed by lunch in the team's dining room.
The facility itself includes, among other things, a locker room, team dining room, weight room, and rehabilitation facility. This is a cut above some MLS clubs that either don't have their own training fields or have the bare minimum.
The importance of the facility was brought to light by newly acquired midfielder Amboi Okugo. In an interview with phillysoccerpage.net, Okugo was asked why he decided to go to Orlando rather than going to Europe, where he had reportedly had offers. Okugo talked about the training facility and the way the players are treated at the club as a major reason for his decision.
The major aspect of the recently agreed upon CBA is a form of restricted free agency. MLS players have been fighting for free agency for a while, and it's expected that they will eventually get a form closer to that of the rest of the world, possibly when this CBA expires in 2020. At that point, having top facilities and treating the players as professionals will be imperative to compete in the league.
Orlando City's facilities and treatment of players will not be a secret. As players move around the league, many will hear about or see the facilities utilized in Central Florida. Because of this, when a more open form of free agency does occur, the Lions will be in an ideal position to take full advantage. The league will then be comprised of the haves and the have-nots.
Orlando City will immediately be one of the haves, in a position to compete for top players.