As became evident almost immediately into talks for a new MLS collective bargaining agreement, the biggest issue of contention was always going to be free agency. If reports from the less-than-conciliatory negotiating table are to be believed, it's not looking good for Friday's planned season kick-off.
Here's Washington Post reporter Steven Goff's recent tweets on the subject:
You couldn't dream up a better "Here's what they think about you" situation if you tried. By the way, the owners' proposed "free agency" plan would apply to exactly one player: the Houston Dynamo's Brad Davis.
While we're sympathetic to the players' desire for the basic rights every other athlete in every other major sport takes for granted, the owners aren't exactly wrong, even if they are evil. The entire attraction of MLS to the owners—and the major reason why it's fraudulent as a competitive enterprise—comes down to its single-entity status, and the control it grants the league over its employees.
Granting players free agency to sign with individual teams would greatly hamper any argument that the league exists as a monolith and thus would probably kill any antitrust defense the single-entity system was created to bolster. And it's obvious that the level of play on the field isn't the primary attractor of fans to the sport. To say nothing of how real free agency would cut into owners' revenues. MLS really is a league where convoluted rules and anti-competitive structure are more important to its existence than are the players themselves. At least one side in these negotiations seems hell-bent on keeping it that way.
The other side just wants some basic labor rights, and to play in a sustainable league capable of attracting the world's top talent. Instead of one that's three short days from a work stoppage, while most of the country doesn't seem to know or care.