Professional football players now have much more control over which club in America’s Major League Soccer (MLS) they want to join.
The MLS Player Association agreed to a new collective deal with the MLS, which included making players eligible for free agency when they are 24 years and have five years of experience. According to the MLSPA, it more than doubles the amount of eligible players in comparison with the old deal when they had to be 28 and have 8 years of experience.
“I had to wait until I was in my thirties before I was a free agent,” said Jeff Larentowicz, a midfielder for Atlanta United and a long-standing member of the MLSPA Executive Committee.
Larentowicz started his career in 2005 with New England Revolution, where he played until his contract expired in 2010. “Even though my contract was over, they had my rights and traded me to Colorado Rapids. I had no say in it.”
“The rules are there. But together the players can be strong and change these rules into better rules.”
In 2016, when Larentowicz was 32, he finally became a free agent. He joined Los Angeles Galaxy and one year later signed with Atlanta.
“My career could have been drastically different if I had been a free agent at 24. I had a pretty good career at Colorado, but I don’t think I would have chosen Colorado if I had been a free agent.”
Larentowicz expects that teams will invest more in players because of free agency. “It will change their behaviour. Before teams could show no commitment in you and still have your trade value. Now players can leave for free, the teams have to make their business more desirable and attractive to players. Teams have to be at their best to perform in a more open market. In the end, that will improve the league.”
The MLSPA also secured a higher minimum wage and average salary, and more bonuses. Travel conditions improved too. Instead of a maximum of 4 charter flights per season, each team now has 8 mandatory charter flights in 2020 and 16 mandatory flights in 2025.
“It was a really important matter for many players,” said Larentowicz.
A charter flight means less waiting time at airports, more space on board, better service and food. “The difference is night and day,” said Larentowicz. “You can easily charter back instead of wasting a day on travel. You have an extra day to recover and train. Don’t forget, over a year we have 30 flights.”
The MLSPA was well-prepared for the negotiations. “We improved our communication channels with the players and arranged that everybody was involved when we were discussing the issues list. This helped us be more in control of this negotiation process than during the previous negotiations, when we needed mediation of the US government to come to an agreement,” said Larentowicz.
“Negotiations are always difficult, but we knew exactly what we wanted and were able to communicate that to the other side of the table. We discussed this deal for a longer time than in the past, and in the end the communication and being cordial on both sides was key.”
“The most important thing is to know your rights. The rules are there. But together the players can be strong and change these rules into better rules. There is always something out there that you can make better.”