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MLS players approve Orlando plan, await response from owners

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Players agree to broad framework but many important details remain undecided.

HANS STEELE / SOUNDERS FC

The MLS Players Association approved a proposal that would pave the way for returning to play in Orlando although significant issues remain, both The Athletic and ESPN have reported. Chief among the outstanding issues is that the players and owners would still need to come to agreement on a range of issues from pay cuts to safety protocols, but the broad framework for a tournament does seem to be coming into focus.

The biggest change from previous proposals is that the group stage of the tournament would be just three games and teams would not be asked to be in Orlando any longer than six weeks. The original plan called for a five-game group stage and for some teams to be in Orlando for as long as 10 weeks. Players— as well as other team officials — had expressed serious misgivings about about being asked to be away from families for such a long period, especially during a pandemic when they are unlikely to have access to normal support structures.

In addition to any games that would be played in Orlando, the new plan also calls for teams to arrive in Orlando around June 24 and train for a couple weeks. The original proposal called for teams to start arriving in Orlando as soon as next week. Many teams have either moved into small-group training sessions already or are expecting to do so next week.

Although the Sounders have not yet announced plans to move beyond the individual training sessions they are currently engaged in, King County has applied to re-open certain businesses and allow for increased activity. Among those changes would be allowing outdoor fitness and activity among groups of five people plus an instructor. That change would effectively line up with the league’s newly approved training protocols.

While there seems to be broad agreement among players and owners on these issues, the sticking points are mostly around the financial and safety components. Owners had apparently asked for a 10% across-the-board pay reduction, to delay revenue sharing plans until 2024 and to insert some sort of clause that would allow them to unilaterally make certain changes to the CBA if attendance doesn’t bounce back next season. Players responded with 7.5% pay cut, a reduction of bonuses that would apparently save the league about $100 million and have resisted any sort of force majeure.

It appears as though the two sides are a bit closer on terms surrounding safety, but there are still unanswered questions around thins like food preparation and to what degree hotel staff will be subject to the same levels of testing and quarantine as players.