International union says MLS lockout possible

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NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Soccer could be headed for a work stoppage next month.

The sport’s international union says management is threatening to lock out MLS players after the league’s five-year labor contract expires Jan. 31.

“It is difficult to understand why the owners would take this course, when all we are asking for are the same rights enjoyed by other players around the world, not just in the biggest leagues, but in leagues of all sizes,” Los Angeles Galaxy star Landon Donovan said in a statement released by FIFPro, which represents more than 50,000 players, including members of the MLS Players Union.

MLS president Mark Abbott disputed much of what FIFPro said.

“Any discussion about a lockout, players’ strike or other work stoppage is premature and frankly counterproductive to our ongoing mutual commitment to reach an agreement,” he said.

FIFPro claims MLS’s single-entity structure, in which all players sign with the league rather than individual teams, violates regulations of FIFA, soccer’s governing body. FIFPro said almost 80 percent of MLS players don’t have guaranteed contracts, that contracts give the league multiple one-year options, that players can be transferred without their consent and that out-of-contract players lack freedom of movement.

“Despite months of negotiations the two sides have made little progress on a new deal,” FIFPro said. “The league is now threatening to lock the players out on Feb. 1 if the players don’t agree to a continuation of the status quo.”

Before forming a union, MLS players filed a federal antitrust suit against the league. A jury ruled against the players in 2000.

Abbott said the league complied with FIFA’s regulations and that “it has been proven in federal court that the MLS business structure is legal and does not operate as a cartel.”

“During the last 50 years, there have been multiple failed efforts to launch professional soccer in the United States and Canada,” Abbott said. “In order to avoid this fate, the MLS owners created a structure that has provided stability and growth during the last 15 years.”

Income for MLS players averaged $147,945 at the start of last season, according to the MLS union, but the median — the point at which an equal amount make above and below — was $88,000 for 323 players listed.

“What we are looking for are the same basic rights that players enjoy in other leagues around the world,” Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller said in a statement issued by FIFPro. “We have made great strides in developing the game in the United States. But we can’t truly compete internationally, either for players or fans, with a system that is so radically different than other leagues around the world.”

MLS Players Union executive director Bob Foose declined comment, spokesman Neil Hare said.