Trades mute union gripes

STEVEN SANDOR, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

Two Major League Soccer vets have new beginnings. But the MLS Players' Union has lost the poster boys in its ongoing dispute with the league.

As Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations resumed this week under the guidance of federal mediator George H. Cohen -- who, before being appointed by U.S. president Barack Obama, was a pro-union labour lawyer -- two key players were traded and got new contracts. Defender Adrian Serioux was dealt by Toronto FC to Houston, while goalkeeper Kevin Hartman was sent by Kansas City to FC Dallas.

Both players are linked by a common thread: They were veterans being used as examples by the MLSPU of why the current system doesn't work; that teams could sit on players and stunt their careers.

Now, both players are back on the job -- and neither will miss a league game, or a pay cheque.

Here you go, Mr. Cohen. MLS doesn't restrict movement, does it?

Things that make you go ... hmmm. MLS now can argue that the system works; that no player will have his career stunted by the right-of-refusal system, which is already complex enough that most fans and even players don't understand. Under current rules, no team can indefinitely sit on a players' rights.

In a nutshell -- all players are signed to the league. When a contract expires, the old team holds the rights. If the player re-ups with the league and another MLS club wants him, that club can make a claim for him.

The old team's right of first refusal last for 48 hours after that. Not forever.

It can't be extended because of the spite of a GM or the whims of a coach.

So, under the current right-of-refusal system, this how the Serioux trade would have shaken down.

Serioux would have re-signed with the central office and Houston declared its intent to take him at that salary.

TFC then had 48 hours to exercise its right of first refusal. Director of soccer Mo Johnston had three options:

* Take back Serioux at the MLS-approved salary figure;

* Use the 48 hours to make a deal with the team that wanted him -- Houston.

* Or, wait the 48 hours, lose Serioux's rights, and have Houston claim him without compensation.

The problem is that most fans -- and even members of the players' union -- believe that the current right-of-first-refusal rule allows a team to sit on a player's rights indefinitely. Not a lot of people have read the legalese, or bothered to go through the league rulebook. Fair enough. Reading rulebooks is sort of like having to go through Vanity Fair -- that was the longest 1,200 pages of my life. Thanks, English prof.

MLS has a history of orchestrating deals to facilitate the wishes of players. In 2008, American star Brian McBride decided to come back to MLS the English Premiership.

TFC was at the top of the ladder when it came to securing his allocation rights. But McBride made it clear he wanted to go to Chicago. No shortage of league pressure was placed on TFC to make a deal happen.

The players might complain about lack of freedom; but central control also means the league will also help and persuade its GMs to make deals in order to make the league stronger.


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