Taylor Graham returned from Washington, DC, on Saturday with some great news to share with his teammates. Away with James Riley and Kasey Keller at MLS Players Union meetings, Graham was hopeful they could reach an agreement with Major League Soccer on a collective bargaining agreement and could avoid any work stoppage that would put the Sounders FC’s season opener against the Philadelphia Union on Thursday in jeopardy.
They did just that on Saturday, announcing that they have reached agreement in principle on the terms of a new five-year CBA, continuing through the 2014 season.
“The last two days were long and productive and emotional at times, but with both sides doing what both sides feel is right for the league in terms of continuing to grow a league that is going in the right direction,” said Graham who was the last on the field as the team underwent a light training session after a 3-3 draw in an intrasquad game Friday night.
“We are very pleased to have reached agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the MLS Players Union,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. “This new agreement allows us to work with our players to continue our mutual efforts to build the sport of soccer in North America. We worked hard during the past few months to develop a new agreement that addressed many of the players’ most important issues and look forward to a meaningful and productive new relationship over the next five years.”
Back in Seattle, Graham was charged with delivering the news to his Sounders FC teammates, as well as explaining the details of the new agreement.
“I’ve got numbers coming out of my ears right now, but for the most part I think everybody’s going to be satisfied,” Graham said.
For the Sounders FC, the agreement puts the team in motion toward MLS First Kick on Thursday night against the Philadelphia Union. The game will be televised live on ESPN2, as well as ESPN Deportes and ESPN360.com. It will also be covered by a live blog at SoundersFC.com.
The prospect that the opener could be missed was very real, but the players are thrilled that it will now go off without a hitch.
“Everyone’s ecstatic,” goalkeeper Terry Boss said. “We all recognize what a great opportunity it is to play here in such a great city. Opening day is going to be outstanding for everybody.”
Added Freddie Ljungberg, “It’s going to be great to play some football again.”
The news is not only great for MLS and its players and fans, but also for the progress of soccer in America. As Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid recalled, the North American Soccer League had a players strike in 1979 that ultimately slowed the growth of the league and helped facilitate the league’s downfall in 1985.
“It’s great news for the league and for the players, but more importantly I think it’s great news for the fans and for soccer in this country. Us old guys all know history and know the last strike didn’t work too well and didn’t help sustain the leagues,” Schmid said. “By us coming to an agreement, it shows that everybody is still willing to make the game of soccer continue to grow and develop in this country and I think we get more and more fans who are committed to the game and behind the game and we will continue to move into stronger and stronger positions.”
The agreement means that everything for the coming season proceeds as planned. On Tuesday, the Sounders FC will host their Kickoff Luncheon at Qwest Field from 11:30-1. And, of course, on Thursday, they will host the Philadelphia Union to kickoff the MLS season.