Major League Soccer and the MLS Players Union avoided the first work stoppage in league history on Wednesday, reaching an agreement in principle on a new collective bargaining agreement thanks to compromises on key issues, including free agency.
The league confirmed the news of a five-year agreement on Wednesday night.
"We are pleased to finalize the framework for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with our players," said MLS commissioner Don Garber.
Pending formal ratification by the members of the MLSPU, the five-year deal allows the 2015 regular season to begin on time, starting with Friday's tilt between the Chicago Fire and the reigning MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy.
The deal concludes a difficult negotiating period that began in earnest last December, and ended just two days before the start of the regular season. The last three days in particular involved some intense negotiations, with Tuesday's session lasting deep into the night, and not concluding until 6 a.m. on Wednesday.
The two sides were back at it later on Wednesday morning and reached a deal that evening.
A source with knowledge of the negotiations confirmed that the CBA contains the first provision for limited free agency in the league's history, with players who are at least 28 years old and with at least eight years of experience eligible to pick what team they play for when their contract expires.
"In this case, the players feel good," Garber said on ESPN's SportsCenter. "They've got more movement than they've had before, more than we probably thought we would would provide when this league was launched. They'll be making more money and have more benefits.
"Our owners will have stability and will have a system that will allow them to continue to invest very smartly and strategically so that we can continue to try to build this league into one of the great soccer leagues in the world."
Garber told SportsCenter that free agency "gives players the opportunity to have a bit more choice, to pick the markets at a certain age that they might want to play in, to be able to make a bit more money than they were able to make in the previous system."
A source of friction had been the league's insistence that any raise for a free agency be capped at 10 percent, but the two sides reached a compromise by using a tiered system.
Players making over $200,000 will be limited to a 15 percent increase from their previous contract. Players whose salary falls between $100,000 and $200,000 will be eligible for a 20 percent raise, while those players making $100,000 or less will be able to garner a 25 percent raise.
The minimum salary is now $60,000, which amounts to a 64 percent increase over the previous minimum of $36,500.
"We are pleased to announce that we have reached a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the league," said Bob Foose, executive director of the MLS Players Union, in a statement. "We are pleased to finally turn our fans attention back to our players and the competition on the field as we get started on the 2015 season."
MLS players Nick Rimando of Real Salt Lake and the Galaxy's AJ DeLaGarza took to Twitter to share the news:
- Nick Rimando (@NickRimando) March 5, 2015
- AJ DeLaGarza (@AJD_20) March 5, 2015