Nearly half an hour before Sporting Kansas City players took the stage Wednesday to showcase their new primary jerseys, they met behind closed doors in a players-only meeting.
The message: There would be no strike.
Major League Soccer avoided its first work stoppage in league history with a five-year collective bargaining agreement that came into focus late Wednesday. Things looked a bit grim only one day earlier, when Sports Illustrated reported that the players voted 18-1 to strike.
The reports from the negotiating table in Washington, D.C., had even Sporting Club CEO Robb Heineman worried about a work stoppage.
“I was very concerned. I was concerned as late as (Wednesday) afternoon,” Heineman said. “I thought it would’ve been detrimental for us to have a work stoppage. Our league is growing, but it’s not mature enough that it can handle a prolonged work stoppage.”
Heineman wasn’t at the meetings in D.C. — and therefore not privy to the back-and-forth nature of the talks — but he said Sporting KC’s ownership group voted to approve the new CBA.
Sporting KC will open its 2015 schedule Sunday against New York.
“I just feel grateful that both sides were able to come together and get it done,” Heineman said. “I’m dying to have soccer this weekend. To get the players back on the field is wonderful.”
During a radio appearance Thursday, MLS commissioner Don Garber called the new CBA a victory for both sides.
It includes the first form of free agency in the league’s history, though it’s far from the models of other major sports leagues in North America. The details of the agreement were not released, but ESPN reported that players who are at least 28 years old and have been in the league for eight-plus seasons will be eligible for free agency.
“I don’t know when or if it will be full-blown free agency, but it’s obvious now that free agency will be a discussion every time we have CBA negotiations,” Heineman said. “The way I look at it, the players are the lifeblood of the league. We’ve got to do what we can to make them feel like this is one of the best places to (play) in the world if we want to be one of the top leagues in the world.”