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Fire season to start on time with new CBA

Major League Soccer and the MLS Players Union came together to agree in principle on a five-year collective bargaining agreement, both sides announced Saturday afternoon.

The unified tone was a far cry from the players' nearly unanimous stance that they would strike if a new CBA was not in place by this Thursday. On the Chicago Fire front, forward Brian McBride and defender C.J. Brown echoed this sentiment earlier in the week.

But the league, the players and fans can breathe a sigh of relief that the season will move forward as planned. For the Fire, their 2010 campaign opens against the host New York Red Bulls at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 27 on ESPN.

"We are very excited that a deal on the CBA has been reached, Fire technical director Frank Klopas said in a statement. "Our players have been training every day for more than seven weeks in preparation for what will no doubt be one of the Fire's most exciting seasons."

With the new CBA, a majority of players will have guaranteed contracts, they will have the opportunity to move around more freely, and, according to MLS Players Union executive director Bob Foose, players' compensation has increased "substantially."

"At the end of the day, I don't believe the players wanted to go on strike, and certainly didn't want to be in a position where they felt they had to," MLS commissioner Don Garber said. "And I know for a fact the owners didn't want them to go on strike and would not lock them out, but would not be able to agree to a deal just because of that threat. I think that the part of the process that is positive is it forces everybody to come together and recognize that we all have the same commitment to build the sport in North America."

Free agency and player mobility were key points in the negotiation process. The players union came up with the concept of a reentry draft, where players who are out of contract at a certain age will be placed into this pool. Teams can select out-of-contract players in this setting, and it would take place sometime after each season is in the books.

Garber also mentioned a task force or advisory committee where players will have more of a say toward the overall development of the game here on the home front.

"I think there's been a view when you go through this process that it was the league versus the players," Garber said. "Now, I'm a commissioner for the players, as well. I represent the financial interest of the owners. But at the end of the day, if the players don't believe in the league leadership and they don't believe we have the ability to make decisions and strategically govern the future of the sport, then they'll just be employees. And our players have never been viewed by us -- and I don't think they view themselves -- as just employees."