MLS willing to start season under expired contract

NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Soccer is willing to start the season under the rules of its expired labor contract.

MLS president Mark Abbott decided to go public Saturday with comments about bargaining after seeing players start to speak out a day earlier.

"We've communicated that the league doesn't have an intention of commencing a lockout," he said.

Training camps have started, and the season opener is scheduled for March 25, when the expansion Philadelphia Union is at Seattle. MLS informed the union of its decision last month, putting the onus on players to decided whether to strike for the first time.

Union executive director Bob Foose did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

"We absolutely hope they wouldn't make that decision," Abbott said.

The league's five-year labor contract expired Jan. 31, but the sides have twice extended bargaining. Talks resume Monday in Washington, and the current extension runs to Thursday.

Players were quoted in several outlets Saturday as saying little progress had been made in talks. Abbott said owners had proposed giving an additional $60 million to players during a five-year deal.

"The owners already lose money. It's a question of adding to those losses," he said.

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

Players want increased freedom of movement within the league and don't like that most contracts are not guaranteed. In the single-entity structure of the MLS, which launched in 1996, all players sign with the league rather than individual teams.

"We have made a proposal that would guarantee a significant number of contracts, not all contracts, but a significant number of them," Abbott said. "We made a proposal that would limit the number of team-allowable options that we have in player contracts.

"To characterize the league as not taking the players' concerns seriously is just factually incorrect. What we have not made a proposal on and what the league is not prepared to do is to have free agency within the league. The league created its structure after really studying other efforts to launch professional soccer leagues in the United States, which unfortunately failed."