Major League Soccer’s collective bargaining agreement with its players’ union expires on Jan. 31, but the subject is not one to be pushed off until then. Negotiations have already started, and on a conference call with the media Thursday, the MLS Players Association aimed its bullhorn at the public.
One of the highest-profile subjects at the table is increasing the number of charter flights allowed in MLS, and pushing teams to use them. Each team is allowed four one-way travel legs per season, and the Union were one of several teams that used none this year.
It’s an especially big deal for Union captain Alejandro Bedoya. When the Union visited the New York Red Bulls, San Jose Earthquakes, and Columbus Crew in a span of eight days in September, they traveled commercial all the way, including returning to Philadelphia from San Jose instead of flying straight to Columbus.
The Inquirer reported extensively on the issue at the time, including the resentment across the Union’s locker room over ownership not spending on charters.
“You know how passionate I’ve been about charter travel in the past, and I will continue to stress that,” Bedoya said on the call. “It’s not just about skipping the line or flying in a fancy plane and getting a better meal. This is stuff that there’s been researched about, and there’s been articles written about how it can improve recovery time."
Was it a coincidence that after playing all of the first two games, Bedoya suffered a quadriceps strain in Columbus, which he termed the first muscle injury of his career? He doesn’t think so.
“I do believe that if we had flown charter directly after the game in San Jose — not having to sit in an economy seat for that long, not having to take a bus from San Jose to San Francisco that took over two hours — that it could have prevented my injury,” he said.
Later in the call, Bedoya added: “That week also was a very important week for us in terms of, that could have determined a different fate for our season, if we finish first or second or third. … I think charter travel could have, even if it increases our chances of winning or lessening injury rate at small percentage points, those make a big difference on the field.”
Atlanta United midfielder Jeff Larentowicz, a 14-year veteran of the league who attended Chestnut Hill Academy, gave Bedoya strong backing.
“If you’re taking care of the players, if you’re showing continued investment in the league, then you know that how you fly, how you travel, especially with the country so large — [and] spanning two countries for the league — you’re going to have to take care of the guys day-to-day, week-to-week,” he said. “This is kind of a common sense issue to us.”
Several MLS coaches have also called for more charter travel, including the Union’s Jim Curtin and D.C. United’s Ben Olsen. Bedoya thanked his boss for the support.
“I would hope that our ownership group has listened to him [Curtin], and to me, and to us enough times that you’d want to invest in this type of stuff to help the team that you’re owning,” Bedoya said. “To help them perform better, to help them recover better, to help get a couple more training sessions in, to prepare better.”
Simplifying MLS’s byzantine budget system is another big issue on which the union has public backing. MLSPA executive director Bob Foose said the players would especially like to see the league get rid of Targeted Allocation Money, a mechanism used to pay high-end acquisitions who aren’t quite Designated Players.
“The impact of TAM — a made up set of restrictions done from a central office to try and dictate to all of our franchises how they build their rosters — in my estimation didn’t really add anything to this league,” Foose said. “And it’s certainly frustrated and angered both the PA and our players. So from our perspective, in the simplest terms, TAM is silly.”
The union would rather see teams have greater leeway over how they spend on salaries.
“It’s not necessary to try and tell our front offices how to sign players — they’re perfectly capable of doing that themselves,” Foose said. “Frankly, if they’re not, then they should suffer the consequences, and that’s the kind of accountability that we want to see happen. … We need to stop being a league where there is an over-centralization, where there’s an over-tinkering, and where there’s this notion that you design a competitive football league in a board room or in an accounting system.”
Foose said the union is willing to strike, jeopardizing what’s expected to be a late-February season kickoff. Players would also stay out of Concacaf Champions League games scheduled for earlier that month.