MLS, players union agree to mediation for collective bargaining agreement

With negotiations over new collective bargaining agreement seemingly at an impasse, MLS owners and the MLS Players Union have agreed to involve the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to help reach an agreement.

An FMCS spokesman told ESPN FC that "FMCS mediators, at the joint request of MLS and the MLS Players Union, have begun the mediation process in the negotiations between the parties."

The spokesman added that the FMCS wouldn't release additional information about meeting dates or locations.

This marks the second time that the FMCS has been involved in negotiations between MLS and the MLSPU. In 2010, FMCS meditator George Cohen was brought in, and his presence was widely hailed as being critical to the two sides reaching an agreement. The FMCS spokesman did not specify which mediator would be involved this time around.

The presence of a mediator can be viewed as a positive step, though mediation shouldn't be confused with arbitration. An arbitrator's decisions are binding, whereas a mediator is intended to act as an impartial observer, and act as a go-between in order to help the two sides reach an agreement.

The benefit to the process is that as long as the mediator is present, the likelihood that either side will make moves towards a work stoppage is unlikely. That said, either side could walk away from the table if they decide they don't like the direction in which the talks are going.

The two sides have been involved in negotiations since the end of last year, with player compensation and free agency the primary sticking points. Several players, including Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley have said that they are willing to strike over free agency.

Bradley is one of the league's highest paid players, making $6.5 million in guaranteed compensation last season, yet he indicated he is completely committed to the union's cause.

"Should we get to a point before the season where things and negotiations aren't where they should be, we are ready to strike, and we are united as a group to make real progress in terms of the way players get treated in this league," he said.

The previous CBA expired on Jan. 31, but the key date is March 6, the planned start of the 2015 regular season.