Major League Soccer and the MLS Players' Union reached an accord in principle over a new collective bargaining agreement, just in time to avoid the league's first work stoppage. This paves the way for Orlando City SC to take on New York City FC as scheduled at 5 p.m. Sunday in the first MLS game for both expansion clubs in front of 62,000 fans at the Citrus Bowl.
Goalkeeper Tally Hall was in Washington, D.C. to represent Orlando City in the negotiations.
"Today's agreement clears the way for history to take place on March 8," said club Founder and President Phil Rawlins in a press release. "Our supporters, our community and partners have all worked so hard -- walking the long road together toward Sunday's monumental match. We are thrilled to see this final hurdle overcome, and are eager for our squad to take the pitch before 62,000 screaming fans at the Citrus Bowl! The excitement in this city is now immeasurable!"
The deal comes after weeks of intense negotiations between the two parties, with MLS free agency playing an acrimonious role in the discussions. In a week's worth of intense negotiations, Tuesday's session lasted well into the night and finished somewhere around 6 a.m this morning.
According to Paul Tenorio of the Orlando Sentinel:
...the new collective bargaining agreement is a five-year deal that creates free agency for players 28 years of age or older, with at least eight years experience. According to that source, a players' raise through free agency is capped depending on salary.
Players who are making less than $100,000 can make up to 125-percent of their salary, players making between $100,000-$200,000 can make up to 120-percent, and those making more than $200,000 have a cap of up to 115 percent of their current base.
In addition, the new CBA includes a minimum salary of $60,000, a substantial step up from the 2014 minimum of $36,500. The minimum will increase incrementally per year. The source said there was also an increase in the overall salary cap, though they could not immediately provide that number.
Free agency took center stage in the battle between MLS and the players. The league's initial offer was free agency for players aged 32 or over who'd played for the same club for 10 years, but it was quickly established that only one player fit this profile -- Houston Dynamo's Brad Davis, which actually wouldn't take affect until 2016.
The league later reduced it to age 28 with eight years but players also rejected this proposal, according to the Washington Post, possibly due to the length of the agreement.
ESPN's noted business expert Darren Rovell wrote that the players had the advantage in the talks due to their ability to take the work overseas for higher pay but it remains to be seen whether or not this had an effect on the negotiations.
The deal will allow the league to open play as scheduled, with Friday's opening day match between the defending MLS Cup Champion LA Galaxy and Chicago Fire.