Toronto FC fell to defending MLS champions Real Salt Lake on Saturday in their final match at the Carolina Challenge Cup exhibition tournament, but the players could be forgiven for having other things on their mind.
A big burden was taken off of their shoulders when Major League Soccer and the MLS Players Union announced earlier Saturday that the two sides reached an agreement in principle on the terms of a new five-year collective bargaining agreement.
“It's been an amicable decision for both groups to move forward at this point and I think the players are happy and satisfied now moving on,” defender and team rep Nick Garcia told Toronto FC TV. “This is what we wanted three, six, eight, 10 months ago for us and we didn’t want it coming down to the wire.”
All that remains is formal approval by the league Board of Governors and the membership of the players union. The sudden development averts a situation that Real Salt Lake owner Dave Checketts called “disastrous” at the recent IMG World Congress of Sports in Los Angeles.
“This is absolutely great news obviously for MLSE, the league, for all the owners, our fans, the players, the MLS it’s tremendous,” Toronto FC Director of Soccer Mo Johnston told Toronto FC TV. “Now we can get started on our own business and you will probably see a lot of movement between all the teams, so we’re all looking forward to getting started this season.”
The new deal, brokered with the help of a U.S. federal mediator, will expire Dec. 31, 2014, and comes just five days before the start of MLS’ 15th season. Both sides waited almost to the 11th hour to get a deal done. Two deadlines had passed with no settlement and the players voted last week to strike on March 25 if no deal was in place, though the league was willing to start the season under the current deal, which expired Jan. 31.
Continuing under what they billed as a bad deal wasn’t something the players were prepared to do. The biggest issues of contention were greater autonomy for the players, including increased free agency, guaranteed contracts and a boost in salaries. According to Bob Foose, the executive director of the players union, the new deal addresses the core issue of players’ rights.
Said Garcia, “For us players, there has been some movement that will hopefully allow the younger guys who have had experience in the league and who are at a certain age to have some more ability to move based on their contract either being picked up at the end of the year or not."
Both sides were bearing down for a fight with the league saying it couldn’t accommodate the players’ demands and the players holding steady with their demands. Now, with the deal done, Garcia and his teammates can turn their attention to getting the Preki era off to a positive start with a win for their new coach in their season opener at rival Columbus this Saturday.
“It has taken a lot of work on both sides to get something done," said the TFC defender, "but everybody is ready to get to the first game of the season and get on with it."