With the season a week away, collective bargaining talks continue in Washington between Major League Soccer and its players union in an effort to avoid a first-ever player strike.

The two sides have appointed George H. Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, as mediator for the proceedings. Players are seeking guaranteed contracts and more rights in free agency. Despite the MLS' old structure showing the players retaining a median salary of $88,000, many players are on the lower side of that number.

"The meetings this week were productive and we have scheduled a number of additional meetings," MLS president Mark Abbott told the Houston Chronicle. "And while we can't discuss what occurs across the bargaining table . . . our focus remains on continued discussions on a new collective bargaining agreement."

As for the Philadelphia Union, the front office prefers to keep quiet about the ongoing proceedings, but it doesn't take a genius to assume a labor strike could be disastrous.

Especially for an expansion franchise with more than 10,000 season tickets confirmed and in the middle of constructing a $115 million soccer-specific stadium while enjoying the attention from big business eager to join the fever.

On the player front, Union defender Danny Califf, who referred to himself as the "defacto representative" for the players, noted that player demands were "reasonable and should be considered," but he sang a different tune on Monday.

"It's all about getting ready for [Opening Day on] March 25 [at Seattle]," Califf told the Daily News. "First and foremost, honestly, that's what we are about. We are putting all that stuff in the back of our minds and just trying to focus."

Sources close to the situation repeatedly have inferred that this, like many similar cases, could go to the witching hour before a mutually agreed-upon CBA is reached. So fans will just have to wait until next week and hope they don't see players holding picket signs outside of Seattle's Qwest Field.

"This is kind of annoying on both fronts," said Union fan Jeff Nichols, of Ardmore, who already booked round-trip airfare and a hotel for next Thursday's MLS season opener. "The ones getting hurt here are the fans that shell out the cash to support their teams and the ones that are hoping that soccer takes off in this country. This nonsense doesn't help any of that."