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From the Stump: Players Earn a Major Victory for the Future

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The MLS Players Union struck a major blow for the future of MLS players on Wednesday by winning the debate over whether MLS will be a free-agency league.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

It's done.

After weeks of posturing and four days of painstaking negotiations, the 2015 MLS season is officially a-go after MLS and the MLS Players Union reached an agreement on a five-year collective bargaining agreement.

Although there are many details yet to emerge, we received some of the most significant details of the new deal shortly after news broke of the agreement in principle.

We know already the CBA, which MLS confirmed would run five years through the end of the 2019 season, contains:

  • As-yet undisclosed annual increases in the salary cap;
  • Free agency for players at least 28 years of age and with at least eight years of service in MLS, with players making less than $100,000 being eligible for a 25% salary increase through free agency, players making $100,000-$200,000 being eligible for a 20% salary increase, and players making in excess of $200,000 being eligible for a 15% salary increase; and
  • An increase in the minimum-salary level from $36,500 to $60,000.

Make no mistake, there will be those who question whether the players should have held out for more and whether particular terms are fair. And there is every possibility that if MLS continues to grow on its current trajectory we'll eventually look back on this deal and say the players deserved more.

But the deal is a win for MLS players in a few very important ways.

First, the deal is a major victory for young players, many of whose salaries went up by 40% Wednesday. For many observers, the bottom of the MLS pay scale was the most eye-popping fact about the way MLS players were compensated. That changed in a very profound way on Wednesday.

But what will prove to me far more significant in the long run, however, is the Players Union's victory on free agency.  Numbers are negotiable. There is always a middle ground. It's not always easy to reach, but there is always a compromise available.

And the terms of the free-agency scheme agreed to on Wednesday certainly represent that sort of compromise. Although the terms of the new CBA opens a form of free agency to many MLS players, there are still many, many more for whom free agency is a ways off.

The bigger triumph, however, is philosophical. Philosophical disagreements are often much more intractable than numerical ones. Either MLS is going to have free agency or it isn't. There really isn't any meaningful middle ground there.

And the players won a massive truth in this respect on Wednesday: MLS will never again be a non-free-agency league. On the key issue of whether players will have a right to choose where they play in MLS, the players won on Wednesday. And they won forever. While the details of who qualifies for such choice and under what terms will (and should) be a subject of short-term controversy, those details will change in future CBA talks.

Some players and observers will criticize the terms of Wednesday's deal. And in the short term their arguments may have merit.

But on Wednesday the MLS Players Union negotiated a CBA that will fundamentally and permanently change MLS in the players' favor. And that's a major victory.