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MLS extends ‘force majeure’ deadline one week, threatens lockout if no deal reached

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Owners insist they won’t grant another extension.

MLS: MLS Media Day Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The initial deadline imposed by Major League Soccer to reach a deal on a revised Collective Bargaining Agreement with the MLS Players Association came and went Thursday evening with nary a peep from the league. This morning, MLS decided to turn up the volume.

Having failed to come to an agreement with the MLSPA, MLS announced a one-week extension for negotiations. This time, if the deadline passes without a deal, MLS said they will terminate the CBA and lock the players out.

“Major League Soccer met with the MLSPA and players yesterday to continue discussions on how to address the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the league said in a statement. “Although we remain far apart, we will extend the 30-day negotiating period by one week to provide every opportunity to finalize an agreement. As part of the extension, MLS and the MLSPA are committed to a regular schedule of meetings over the coming days.”

The owner’s initial offer called for a two-year extension of the CBA agreed to in June, in which the players agreed to a host of concessions as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, including the now infamous force majeure clause. In December, the league notified the players they would invoke the clause due to ongoing financial ramifications from the pandemic, with an initial deadline of Thursday at midnight.

The parties have been negotiating behind closed doors — and in the press — since that date, and the failure to reach a deal means the league’s April 3 season start is now in jeopardy. That date has already been pushed back from March, although neither the league nor players have suggested negotiations are the root cause.

“Given the impact of COVID-19 on how clubs will need to operate during preseason, we must finalize an agreement in the coming days in order to provide teams and players adequate time to prepare for the opening of training camps,” according to the release from the league. “If we are unable to finalize a new CBA by 11:59 p.m. ET on February 4, the MLS Labor Committee has voted unanimously to authorize the league to terminate the CBA and institute a lockout.”

At this point it is unclear what action the MLSPA would take in the event of a lockout. Bob Foose, Executive Director of the MLSPA, has not ruled out legal action to contest the force majeure. A source confirmed to Sounder at Heart that in the event of a lockout, players would be free to sign overseas contracts and play elsewhere. However, once the lockout ends, players with existing contracts would likely have to return to their original teams. But even that is unclear, as the CBA ratified in June has not been made public. And the timing of the lockout could impact the ability of players to move, as most transfer widows close on or about Feb. 1.