Questions Loom as MLS Training Camps Begin

Whether CBA gets done in time is the biggest question of all
by Ray Marcham   |   Friday, January 23, 2015

Major League Soccer (MLS) 2012 Season Preview

All across Major League Soccer, one of the most exciting times of the year has arrived.

It’s time to open training camps across the league, and that means six weeks of drills, scrimmages, friendlies and preseason matches with other MLS clubs. Many will go on the road for a time, whether it’s to California, Florida, Arizona or even Europe.

With every team, there are plenty of questions that will start to get answered leading up to the opening weekend in March. New clubs, new players, new homes for some players and, this season, two new teams make this preseason one with plenty to talk about.

But the biggest question right now is whether the season will start on time. The negotiations between MLS and the MLS Players Union on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement have restarted, and while both sides say that the atmosphere at the talks are better than they were in 2011, the pressure to get a deal done will only increase as time goes on.

The first date to know is January 31. That’s when the current CBA expires, and while both sides have agreed to keep talking through February, the urgency will grow with each passing day that a deal isn’t reached. The players seem to be prepared to strike if there is no new CBA by the scheduled opener between Los Angeles and Chicago on March 6, but the stakes are so high that any work stoppage could be a disaster for the league.

Getting to that agreement could be a major challenge. Money is the big issue, with the MLSPU wanting a higher minimum salary (currently at $36,500 for players under 25 years old, $48,500 for “senior” players), and increase in the MLS salary cap ($3.1 million in 2014), the median salary (around $100,000) and an increase in the maximum salary for non-Designated Players ($387,500, which is also what DPs count for under the cap). The amount of money that the richer clubs are spending on DPs may also be used as a reference that the league isn’t in a bad financial position and can afford these increases. That new TV contracts with Fox and ESPN start this year, with significantly more money coming in to the league and the 20 clubs, will also be used as a counterpoint to any MLS claim of being deep in the red.

Also at issue is free agency, and that could be the sticky issue that holds up a settlement. There is no free agency in MLS right now, as the Re-Entry Draft is currently used for players who are out of contract and who didn’t have their contract extended by their club. The MLSPU would love to have true free agency, equivalent to what other North American sports leagues, and most other soccer leagues worldwide, currently have. But MLS, with its single-entity setup, will fight hard to hold on to that or develop some sort of restricted free agency. How that gets negotiated may determine whether the season starts on time.

Assuming that the CBA gets done, then what questions get asked? How about, how will the new clubs start off? A lot of eyes will be on Orlando City and New York City FC, as they make their MLS debuts. Both will have familiar names and faces, with Kaká, Brek Shea and Donovan Ricketts in Orlando and David Villa, Mix Diskerud, and (eventually) Frank Lampard at NYCFC. They will be looking to make a quick splash in the Eastern Conference, which could be seen as wide open.

How will the new coaches begin their tenures? Those new in their positions will be in the spotlight, especially in San Jose, Houston and the red side of New York. Dominic Kinnear is going back to the Bay Area to take over an Earthquakes side that had a bad 2014, but is moving into a long-awaited stadium of their own. The Dynamo rolled the dice and hired Owen Coyle, well known for his stints as a Premier League manager at Bolton and Burnley. How his style fits into MLS will be fascinating to watch. Then there are the Red Bulls, where Jesse Marsch is already under intense pressure from supporters to prove that the firing of Mike Petke wasn’t a massive mistake.

Will the post-Donovan era be any different for the Galaxy? Landon may be gone, and Steven Gerrard is coming in the summer, so this is truly Robbie Keane’s team now. No CONCACAF Champions League means a less hectic start to 2015 than to 2014, but with Sporting Kansas City and Houston added to an already very strong Western Conference, getting out quickly might be what Bruce Arena’s defending champs have to prepare for.

And…will training camps for many teams be as much for USL Pro as for MLS? The Red Bulls announced on Wednesday that they will have a team in USL Pro this season, bringing the total of MLS-owned clubs in the league to eight. Training camps with those eight clubs (Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, RSL, Toronto, Montreal, NYRB) will determine which players get “sent down” to USL Pro as those rosters get filled out.

Those are just a few questions out there as training camps begin. Each club has numerous questions with players returning from injuries; new players trying to fit in and what type of expectations are placed on them. The next six weeks will be interesting to watch as we start to build to First Kick.

But, all of those questions become mute if the CBA isn’t done by March 6. And that is the biggest question of all.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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