One month ago, the prospect of a labor stoppage by MLS players seemed far-fetched. Sure, the threat of a strike was a legitimate and valuable negotiating tactic, but still, the chances of a compromise being reached with the league and owners over a new collective bargaining agreement seemed far likelier. Failing that, an owner lockout was more conceivable than a player strike.
Fast-forward to the present day, and we're less than 48 hours from the (twice-extended) negotiating deadline. With the mudslinging having moved into the public sphere through various statements and media reports, it seems the opposing parties are further apart than ever, meaning that, come Friday morning, a player work stoppage could begin.
A lockout is less likely following MLS' announcement that it was prepared to operate the 2010 season under the old CBA, something it had previously said it would not do. As Soccer America's Ridge Mahoney put it, that revelation "drilled an overhead smash into the players' side of the court," and though nothing about this saga is overly clear, it does seem that the rank and file are prepared to respond by striking, if necessary.
If they do walk out, the question becomes, for how long will industrial action have to go on before the owners and league make the concessions that are desired if, indeed, they ever will?
The hot-button topics remain the same, with free agency and guaranteed contracts just two of the major changes being demanded by the players. The rhetoric suggests that both sides remain committed to doing what they can to reach an agreement, but, though hope remains, the sands of time are running dangerously low before Thursday night's deadline.
Meanwhile, while what appear to be increasingly fractious talks continue, fans of MLS' 16 teams watch and wait, hoping that the worst-case scenario will be avoided and that they will have soccer to watch when the regular season is scheduled to start March 25.
Good luck, young man
MLS champion Real Salt Lake showed no signs of resting on its laurels this week by making a move to sign one of the most highly touted young American players of recent years.
Luis Gil is a 17-year-old midfielder who, according to reports, snubbed interest from Real Madrid and Arsenal in favor of signing with MLS. Initially allocated to Kansas City, Gil arrives in Utah in exchange for a 2011 second-round draft pick and an international player roster slot plus the guarantee that 25 percent of any future transfer fee received for him will go to the Wizards.
Gil has an impressive résumé, having had two countries -- he rejected Mexico in favor of the U.S. -- scrapping to cap him at the international level, at which he was the youngest member of the U.S. U-17 World Cup squad last year. Now he attempts to make the jump from age-group soccer to the professional level, where he will hope to make a greater impact than a number of RSL's previous high-profile teenage recruits.
In 2005, the franchise used its first-ever draft pick to select 16-year-old Nikolas Besagno. The move turned out to be disastrous for both the player -- Besagno played eight games in four years -- and the team. (Some of the players overlooked with that initial pick were a number of future U.S. internationals, including Brad Guzan, Michael Parkhurst and Chris Rolfe.)
In 2006, RSL traded for teen Freddy Adu from D.C. United. Adu showed signs of living up to his hype before being sold to Benfica in the middle of the following season after he impressed at the U-20 World Cup.
Meanwhile, Gil will join 19-year-old Alex Nimo on RSL's roster. Nimo signed a Generation Adidas contract and was the 17th overall pick in the 2008 draft but has yet to log a minute of MLS action.