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MLS sides fail to meet as possible strike looms

NEW YORK (AP) — Negotiators for Major League Soccer players and owners failed to meet Tuesday, two days before the latest extension in their labor talks is due to expire.

With players failing to match management's no-lockout pledge with a no-strike offer, the league's first work stoppage appears possible, one that could postpone the first game of the expansion Philadelphia Union and the official opening of Red Bull Arena.

Negotiators met Monday in Washington, D.C., before league officials returned to their New York office.

The league's first collective bargaining agreement expired Jan. 31, and the sides twice extended bargaining, with the latest additional time running out Thursday. Players say they want increased free-agent rights and more guaranteed contracts.

While the league says it has offered a higher percentage of guaranteed deals, management says it cannot afford to increase free-agent rights within MLS when contracts expire.

MLS president Mark Abbott said last weekend the league will not lock out players and is prepared to start the season under the terms and conditions of the expired five-year contract.

While the league schedule opens March 25, when the expansion Philadelphia Union is at Seattle, Columbus hosts Toluca on March 9 in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League on March 9, then plays the second leg at the Mexican club eight days later.

CONCACAF, the regional governing body, isn't sure how it would deal with a strike, whether it would cause a postponement or a forfeit.

"We have a couple of choices," CONCACAF secretary general Chuck Blazer said Tuesday. "We could go back to the committee at that point and deal with it under extraordinary matters, since it hasn't been dealt with before.

"I'm hoping it doesn't happen. It would be a sad thing for that to be the case. We're in the midst of building something for everybody, and we hope they would view it that way, as well. We would have to consider what we would do at the point in time when were are confronted with the actual facts."

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