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MLS labor contract expires; union not striking now

NEW YORK (AP) — Major League Soccer's collective bargaining agreement was set to expire Thursday night after players balked at a third short-term extension. While the union's decision left open the possibility of the league's first strike, players said they won't walk off just yet.

The sides, whose five-year contract initially was due to expire Jan. 31, have not met since Monday's session in Washington, D.C.

"We have advised our players to keep working for the time being, but as of Friday they will be doing so without a CBA," Major League Soccer Players Union executive director Bob Foose said in a statement. "In the meantime, all options are being considered as the process continues."

MLS president Mark Abbott said last weekend that the league didn't plan to lock out players and was prepared to start the season under the terms and conditions of the old contract.

Players have sought free agent rights and more guaranteed contracts from the single-entity league, which launched in 1996 and negotiates all contracts on behalf of its teams.

"We have listened to the issues raised by the MLS Players Union and the league has made detailed proposals that have addressed these issues, including in the areas of economics, guaranteed contracts, options and the ability of a player to move to another MLS club if he is released by his current club," MLS said in a statement. "These proposals, which represent substantial changes from the current CBA, will significantly increase our spending and provide substantially more rights to the players."

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.

"While we expect that negotiations with MLS will resume at some point, there simply hasn't been enough progress made in the negotiations to date to warrant an extension of the old agreement," Foose said. "We are completely committed to forging real changes to the way MLS players are treated."

The MLS schedule begins March 25, when the expansion Philadelphia Union is at Seattle, but there are some matches before then. 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.

Red Bull Arena, a $200 million, 25,000-seat stadium in Harrison, N.J., formally opens with an exhibition game between the Red Bulls and Brazil's Santos on March 20. The Red Bulls said Thursday that Robinho, on loan to Santos from Manchester City, will be part of the travel roster along with Neymar, Giovani and Fabio Costa.