Putting lipstick on a pig

MLS has its CBA. Yaaaa?

We can (likely) talk about the football again.

Yes, late on Friday the MLSPA and MLS came to a tentative agreement to end the seemingly endless labour war of the last 18 months. If the players vote to ratify the agreement – and they are expected to – it will mean that there won’t be another strike or lock-out threat until 2028.

Unless there is a crazy act of God that no one could ever anticipate that causes one of the parties to to invoke the force majeure clause that is.

Can you imagine something so crazy?!


Anyway, the likely peace is good news for fans that just want to see their favourite team play. You can start counting down the 55 days until MLS teams are back kicking balls in anger again. And for TFC, it’s likely only about 40 days until they play the 2020 Voyageurs Cup final versus the CanPL’s Forge at long last.

Look, I’m as guilty as anyone for being relieved that I can look forward to talking about formations and signings and all those good things here and on SoccerToday again soon. But, the journalist in me is having a hard time celebrating it.

The players have left a lot of money on the table again – more than they had a year ago when the first agreement was signed. They got some greater free movement rights and the possibility of benefiting from increased media fees down the line, but the clear winner here were the owners. Again.

You’ll note that I didn’t say free agency above. That’s what it will be called in the press release, but when a player isn’t able to freely negotiate with teams to get the best contract possible for himself, it’s not free agency. No, what the MLS players have is an increased ability to pick where they play. That’s not insignificant – this is a league that saw teams maintain player rights after they released the player up until about 10 years ago – but, it’s a long way from what players in every other league in the world have.

So, let’s call it what it is: Free(er) Movement.

That’s the thing. Everything about this agreement is just about halfway to good. You can spin it as a positive, but if you peel back the layers you’ll be disappointed.

A year ago at this time, MLS seemed ready to maybe start to move in a new, modern and positive way. After years of being conservative and trying to dull the product down in an effort to be safe rather than progressive, MLS was ready to actually try to compete and grow into the league that it long claimed it wanted to be.

The “one of the best leagues in the world by 2022” line that everyone makes fun of wasn’t likely to come true, but maybe, just maybe, MLS was on its way to becoming “a very good league that looks like other mid-level leagues in the world by 2022.” That’s not as punchy a line, but it’s a worthwhile goal that would actually be achievable.

Alas, the pandemic hit and the league’s conservative forces got spooked and we’re now staring at seven more years of GAM! TAM! BAM!    

Those stupid rules that no one fully understands and that everyone rightly makes fun of aren’t going anywhere under this new CBA. And, make no mistake, they hold the league and the teams back. MLS has decided that protecting the idea of parity (to the point of parody) and cost certainty is more important than growth and winning games internationally.

The only hope might be that the new CCL format exposes MLS teams. Maybe a couple years of 7-8 Mexican teams advancing will embarrass the MLS owners into change?

What’s more likely is MLS owners will magically find more money to bring players of a certain level into the league, as they did when they added TAM. Or they’ll add another DP spot. Both of those moves would allow the league to appear to be doing something, while really just putting lipstick on a pig.

But, other than that, great news!