ORLANDO, Fla. -- MLS Players Association executive director Bob Foose said that a work stoppage is "never the goal" but that the MLSPA is preparing for one if an agreement can't be reached with the league on a new collective bargaining agreement.
The MLSPA met with members of the media ahead of Wednesday's MLS All-Star Game against Atletico Madrid. The meeting included Foose, director of player relations Ty Harden as well as bargaining committee members Brad Guzan of Atlanta United, LAFC defender Walker Zimmerman and Atlanta defender Leandro Gonzalez Pirez.
With the existing CBA set to expire on Jan. 31, 2020, Foose said that the union has been in consistent discussions with the league. But he added that the MLSPA has already begun preparing for a possible work stoppage, with players drawing up plans for alternative housing and training options.
"A strike is never the goal, and it's not our goal," Foose said. "If we each come to the table and work hard to find common ground, I'm very confident we can reach an agreement that will benefit both the player pool and the league. That's my hope and the hope of all the players. If it doesn't happen, at that point the player pool will be making a decision as to whether or not they're willing to play with the terms that are on the table."
He added, "Our players have been preparing and talked consistently over the last year for the possibility of a stoppage. We continue to talk about it and make plans, both big-picture and little-details kinds of plans. That's what we have to do. We have to be prepared."
When asked if the union's strike fund is sufficiently large for the players to ride out an extended work stoppage, Foose said he felt it was, although he added that reaching a successful deal will depend on other factors.
"You can never have too much money in a strike fund, especially when you're negotiating against mostly billionaires. The strike fund is a lot bigger, the [union] staff is a lot bigger. We will use every penny and every minute of our time to help players through a stoppage. But the reality is that's not what is going to make it successful. It's going to be the work that the players put in through their solidarity, their leadership, and educating their younger teammates as to what this is about."
Foose laid out the union's goals for a new agreement. They include players having more say on where they live and work, as well as a fairer system in which players can compete for dollars instead of being pigeon-holed into roster spots that have a limited range of salaries. The MLSPA will also push for more transparency and accountability by giving the league's teams more freedom to construct rosters as they see fit, rather than requiring approval from MLS.
"If you're going to be a league of choice and you're going to compete with the best leagues in the world, at its most basic level it means MLS starting to look and act like leagues you compete with," said Foose.
Speaking ahead of Wednesday's MLS All-Star Game, league commissioner Don Garber was positive that an accord would be reached by the January deadline.
"This will be our fourth CBA. We've gone through three negotiations in the last 20 years or so," Garber said. "None of them are ever easy. All of them have issues on both sides. We're going to engage with the union. We've got until the end of January before the end of the deal is finalized. I'm convinced that we and the union will reach an agreement that makes sense for MLS, it's owners and the players."
In terms of league investment, the MLSPA wants teams to travel by charter more often, the idea being it will improve the product on the field through better preparation and recovery.
"Because of the country we live in, the travel requirements are massive," said Guzan. "Not spending three quarters of the day in an airport, not allowing your body to become fatigued mentally and physically, ultimately charter flights allow you to get to your destination much quicker in a way that allows you to be focused solely on the game and physically you feel much better stepping on the field. It's the same thing after the game."
Garber said the issue came down to resources.
"I get the charter issue. It's been a discussion that we've had both with our current CBA and our future CBA," Garber said. "I'd love to be in a situation where our players could travel by charter to every game. I get the fact that we're going across multiple time zones, and our country is very large and that has an impact on our players. But it's all about how do we allocate our resources and where do we and our players allocate our available spending because it's not an unlimited pool of money.
"We and the players' union will sit down and figure out how we are going to take what our capabilities are to provide them with what they want, and what aspect of that are things like charters, and what aspect will be increased salaries, increased minimums and all sorts of other things that we're looking for."