Atlanta United: MLS Avoids Lockout; Let’s Play!

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It came close, REALLY close, but there will be no lockout in the MLS this year as the MLSPA finalized a deal that will extend to the 2025 season. This means major league soccer will be back on the field sooner rather than later, and for that, I think we can all be just a little happier as we continue to live without the majority of live sports on TV. More importantly, we get to see the five stripes back on the pitch soon, and if you aren’t ready to wave a flag for 90 minutes and sing from your living room, something may be wrong with you.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the deal is a supposed tournament in Orlando — about three weeks from now — that will count towards each side’s overall points. Every MLS club will participate, and it will be a full-scale tournament with group stages, knockout rounds, and a prize pool of about 1 million dollars. The tournament will be held at Disney’s Wide World of Sports, and players will be quarantined to their rooms outside of games and practices.

While I have to admit that the idea of a mid-season tournament to kick things off again causes my stomach to fill with butterflies, I’m simply dumbfounded by the fact the solution to containing the spread of Covid-19 will be solved by cramming 26 different teams and staffs into one resort. Can anyone else see a problem here, or is it just me? Also, with the talks of multiple games a day, the question must be asked how the playing surfaces will hold up? I know many baseball teams play doubleheaders, and it is very common to play one game after another, however, multiple games being played on the same pitch in a short amount of time is not something I have witnessed in soccer. Hopefully, Disney has the resources and space to make sure all 26 sides can play comfortably and not worry about twisting an ankle or a bad bounce of the ball. While it is difficult to say how a tournament like this will affect Atlanta United, I can say they will be one of the favorites to win.

This is also an excellent opportunity for Frank de Boer to test out players like newcomer JJ Williams and others in a big game environment. However, the games won’t be so big that it will be detrimental to his or others’ roles at the club — more like a trial and error type situation.

The less exciting, but equally important side to deals like these is the numbers. Like most leagues right now, MLS players will be taking a pay cut of 7.5% but will be granted the option to delay the cut until after the tournament. Individual bonuses will also be capped at $5 million for the year. Another big part of the deal was the revenue for the broadcast rights agreement set to take effect in 2023. Both sides concurred to take the percentage from 25% of money dumped into each side’s salary from the new broadcast deals down to 12.5% when it takes effect in the 2023 season, then return to 25% in 2024.

I have to admit, I was extremely worried that a lockout was possible when this came up because that would have been the absolute last thing the MLS needed. Being low on the viewing rates, overall attendance, and interest compared to other sports right now, the least the MLS could do is be able to play games. Assuming the MLS opens back up before the NBA and MLB, which continues to look more and more likely, this could be their shot to impress people. Of course, this is going to come after a 3-4 month break in action, so sloppiness should be expected, but I do presume viewing rates for this tournament should be through the roof. Great work by the MLSPA and the league for getting this through without any further delay.

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