Despite a pair of extensions to the negotiation period between Major League Soccer and the MLS Players Union, there has been no significant progress regarding the issues central to the two side's differences, leaving the sides far apart in talks for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
According to multiple sources, MLS has yet to budge on issues ranging from free agency to team control in player personnel decisions, making a work stoppage a very real possibility with the 2010 MLS season just a month away.
"We feel the league's not taking us very seriously at all," said Houston goalkeeper Pat Onstad, a member of the player's union executive committee. "We're pretty far apart at this stage.
"Earlier in January there were some indications that some progress was going to be made, but right now, I think the negotiations are really in a bad place," Onstad said. "We're a long way from getting this deal done."
Key among the issues being fought over are player free agency and team autonomy in player transactions. The union is rallying around, among other things, the chance for players who aren't wanted by their former clubs to be able to move freely within the league.
That issue has been magnified by the situations of veterans Kevin Hartman and Dave Van Den Bergh, two players currently out of contract who are in limbo because their respective teams are seeking compensation for their rights despite the fact that both teams declined contract options for the player and neither team intends to sign the player.
Veteran defender Adrian Serioux is in a similar situation, but his status is even more troubling because he played out the full four years of his MLS contract and still remains in limbo because Toronto FC is seeking compensation for his rights.
"We just want the same freedoms that players around the world have," Onstad said. "This isn't a case of us fighting over money, that's not the main issue, it's about how we are treated as players and the current CBA just isn't acceptable."
When contacted about the comments from the player's union, MLS stood by its comments from last week.
"The negotiations are ongoing," said MLS spokesman Will Kuhns. "Meetings are scheduled for next week between the league and the union and the deadline on those negotations is February 25. We're hopeful for a mutuall ybeneficial conclusion."
MLS and the Player's Union agreed on an extension to their CBA talks until Feb. 25, but with the sides still far apart and the season just a month away, a delay to the start of the season is looking more and more likely. MLS commissioner Don Garber has already stated that the league does not want to operate under the current CBA, so a league lockout is possible. A player's strike is also a very real possibility.
"All I can say from our standpoint, from the player's standpoint, is that we're ready for a work stoppage," Onstad said. "We're very unified and the guys are adamant that there needs to be major changes in the CBA and right now it's just not on the table, and as far as we're concerned, we don't want to play under those conditions."