There's a possibility that this Sunday's MLS Cup Final between Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders could be the last Major League Soccer matchup we see for an extended period of time.
The league's current collective bargaining agreement, which was signed in 2015, expires on January 31st. According to Major League Soccer Players Association director Bob Foose, if they fail to reach a new deal with a league by then, the players are prepared to strike.
One of the main sticking points is free agency. Like the major soccer leagues in Europe, but unlike every other major North American sports organization, MLS does not have a full free agency system in place. Only players 28 years or older, or those who have spent at least eight years with their current team, qualify for free agency.
Another issue is Targeted Allocation Money, one of the linchpins that teams have relied upon to bring top talent from around the world to stack up rosters. For the 2019 season, MLS provided each team with $1.2 million worth of TAM, allowing teams to sign players that would have otherwise counted heavily against the salary cap. Foose calls 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".
MLS teams are also allowed a maximum of four charter flights per year. The rest of the time, they must fly commercial. On one occasion, this nearly forced a delay in a match between F.C. Cincinnati and Colorado Rapids, as Cincy's United flight was stuck at Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky Airport for seven hours due to mechanical trouble.
Both sides have differing opinions on how talks are going. As MLS Commissioner Don Garber told the Associated Press, "Those conversations are ongoing and they've been productive. As the league continues to grow, more opportunity exists for everyone and more issues exist that we have to manage as the league develops.''
Philadelphia Union forward Alejandro Bedoya sees it differently.
"For us, at least, I think it's been slow in terms of the responses from the league. We've made proposals recently, and we haven't really got substantive responses from them," said Bedoya, as quoted by Sports Illustrated.
If the players go forward with a strike, it would be the first work stoppage of any kind in the league's history, although they came dangerously close just before the 2015 season. After four days of marathon negotiations involving a federal mediator, the players finally agreed to terms with the league days before the season was to kick off.