MLS pushes negotiation deadline back to Wednesday as players skip training

In response to Major League Soccer's threat of a lockout, players from around the league declined to show up for training on Monday.

MLS and the MLS Players Association have been locked in negotiations for weeks relating to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. To that end, the two sides have been discussing a return-to-play plan, economic concessions for 2020, as well as changes to the CBA, the framework of which was agreed to last February, but not ratified by either side.

- ESPN+: Stream ESPN FC TV daily and 30 for 30: Soccer Stories
- Insider Notebook: United battle Liverpool for Werner

The Athletic was the first to report this story.

The MLSPA sent the league its latest proposal Sunday night, but MLS pushed back, saying that not only had it given the players its final offer, but that if they didn't agree to it by noon ET on Tuesday, owners would lock the players out. Sources have confirmed to ESPN that the deadline has since been extended 24 hours to noon on Wednesday, giving both sides more time to come to an agreement.

That has drawn the ire of the MLSPA membership. ESPN can confirm an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report that Atlanta United players didn't turn up for the voluntary, in-person workouts on Monday that have been held in recent weeks.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported the same for Minnesota United, while a source told ESPN that players from the Columbus Crew also didn't attend practice. FC Cincinnati issued a release stating that players did not attend voluntary workouts on Monday. Some clubs, like Nashville SC, didn't have training scheduled for today.

MLS has been shut down since March 12 and has been engaged in negotiations with the MLSPA over the past several weeks in a bid to soften the pandemic's economic impact.

In a statement, the MLSPA said their proposal includes salary reductions across the entire player pool, reduced team and individual bonuses, and additional concessions to existing and future terms of the CBA. The MLSPA is also requesting that the current CBA -- the framework of which was agreed upon last February but not ratified by either side -- be extended by one year to 2025.

If the deal is approved by MLS, the one-year CBA extension would push the total amount of concessions the MLSPA is making well beyond the $100 million contained in the union's previous proposal last Friday.

But sources tell ESPN that there still remain some differences between the two sides, with some seeming small and others more intractable. While the MLSPA has offered to accept a 7.5 percent pay cut, MLS's most recent offer came in at 8.75 percent.

A bigger sticking point relates to the force majeure clause that would allow either side to back out of a CBA in the case of a catastrophic event like a pandemic. The MLSPA's version of the force majeure -- first reported by The Athletic -- is described as "industry standard" by one source in that it similar to that used by the NBA in that the league could invoke it with 30 days notice if an event like a pandemic occurred, and the terms of the CBA became economically unsustainable or the league could no longer perform its obligations.

But sources tell ESPN that MLS is concerned about the possible impact that a second wave of COVID-19 would have on its business, and that is why it is insisting on more detailed language in its force majeure clause. The league's most recent proposal stated that if five or more teams suffered attendance drops of 25 percent or more from the previous year, the clause could be invoked that would drastically reduce player salaries.

Another stumbling block is the start of a proposed revenue sharing plan related to a new broadcast rights deal that will commence in 2023. The CBA terms agreed upon in February stated that 25 percent of the net increase in media revenue that exceeds $100 million above 2022 levels (pre-new deal) will flow into salary budget and General Allocation Money on a per team basis.

MLS had been trying to delay its implementation by a year, but softened that stance so long as the union accepted 10 percent of the net increase in 2023 and 25 percent the following year. The union countered with 17 percent in 2023 and 25 percent in 2024.

Sunday's vote comes on the heels of another vote late last week, in which the players approved a package containing similar concessions that, according to sources, totaled around $100 million. According to sources, that offer included a $5 million cap on bonuses.

The Athletic reported that the health and safety protocols related to the proposed Orlando tournament have largely been worked out, but that some players could opt out for medical or familial reasons such as a partner who is pregnant. That would open the door for stars such as the LA Galaxy's Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and LAFC's Carlos Vela -- both of whom have partners that are pregnant -- to skip the tournament.

Otherwise, the particulars of the tournament are set, namely that the 26 teams will head to Orlando on or around June 24, take part in a three-game group stage which will be followed by a knockout round. The total time away should amount to six weeks.