By Kyle McCarthy
Labor strife will have to wait.
MLS and the MLS Players Union agreed on Thursday night to continue talks over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement despite the impending expiration of the current CBA on Monday morning.
The two sides have extended the negotiating deadline until Feb. 12, permitting an extra 12 days to reach a new agreement. The move will allow teams to hold training camps and players to collect paychecks without the fear of a work stoppage for the next fortnight.
With the talks set to continue, the Friday Five pondered the ramifications of the latest developments:
1. The odds now favor a new deal well before the start of the season. Deadline extensions aren't usually offered if there is too much distance between the involved parties. The relative success of the substantive negotiations (and several other factors discussed below) over the past couple of weeks led both sides to agree to the extension. Thank the pressure of the initial deadline - the expiration of the old CBA on Jan. 31 - and the ridiculously high stakes for jolting the two sides into action.
2. Both sides weighed the tactical advantages and risks of a work stoppage and decided against it...for now. The prospect of a lockout or a strike represented the last available game-changing option. A work stoppage incited by either side would have certainly changed the tenor and the balance of the negotiations. Once the Union announced its players would report and remain in camp (and continue to draw a paycheck) after the expiration of the CBA, the onus shifted to MLS to decide whether it wanted to lockout the players. With the inevitable public relations repercussions from a work stoppage looming and the prospect of a lingering impasse impacting the regular season and the bottom line, MLS opted to stay the course with the gradually improving tenor of the negotiations. That could change if the talks don't yield an agreement over the next two weeks, but the chances of a work stoppage diminished significantly with this deadline extension.
3. Much of the framework for a new agreement is already in place. Houston goalkeeper Pat Onstad told CBCSports.ca on Wednesday “two or three major stumbling blocks” stand between the two sides and a resolution. While the statement doesn't depict an agreement in hand, it shows that most of the lesser concerns have been hashed out between the parties already.
4. Forget about any radical changes to the current single-entity structure. It isn't hard to discern the likeliest remaining stumbling blocks – guaranteed compensation and freedom of movement within the league upon the expiration of a contract are the most likely suspects – but it is hard to see substantive structural changes to the status quo arriving at this late stage. At this point, the Union will do well to ease the burden on the hardest-hit players, increase contractual security by some measure and achieve incremental progress in preparation for the next set of negotiations.
5. The public silence will almost certainly continue. Surprised by the lack of media scrutiny as the deadline approached? Consider it a byproduct of the negotiating process. There were a few informative articles this week, but the wall-to-wall coverage many expected in the heady days of public mudslinging late last year didn't occur. The reason? Both sides have to maintain their negotiating positions and minimize any potentially harmful public utterances. Expect the platitudes and the encouraging statements to continue until a deal is reached or the talks disintegrate.
BONUS. The focus can stay on the field. The extension allows players, coaches and technical directors across the league to focus on preseason preparations. Business as usual - at least for now - works for everyone with the 2010 campaign set to kick off in less than two months.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSnet.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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