By STEVEN SANDOR
One Canadian soccer executive is hopeful that Major league Soccer and its players’ union can avoid a lockout.
Vancouver Whitecaps’ president Bob Lenarduzzi, whose team will enter MLS in 2011, is following the negotiations between the MLS Players’ Union and the league, and believes that a deal will be reached as the Feb. 1 deadline nears.
“There is still a ways to go (before the deadline). I think cooler heads will prevail,” said Lenarduzzi. “I think a deal should be reached, one that the players can feel good about.”
That deal would also need to satisfy owners who have invested millions to build the sport in North America, he added.
Earlier this week, FIFpro, the global players’ organization, sent out a press release quoting veteran American players Kasey Keller and Landon Donovan, who demanded FIFA censure MLS’ central-control system.
The union is asking for the league to grant players more freedom — to allow teams, not the league, to control contracts and to the right of free agency to players out of contracts.
Both players claimed that owners were prepared to lock out the union when the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires on Jan. 31.
“‘What we are looking for are the same basic rights that players enjoy in other leagues around the world,”Keller was quoted.
“It is difficult to understand why the owners would take this course, when all we are asking for are the same rights enjoyed by other players around the world, not just in the biggest leagues, but in leagues of all sizes,” Donovan said through FIFpro.
FIFA responded by saying that it is satisfied by the MLS central-control structure and will not interfere with negotiations.
Lenarduzzi suggested while the negotiations are entering “a critical phase,” that it’s expected for the rhetoric to be amped up as the deadline approaches.
Vancouver, Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact will once again contest the Nutrilite Canadian Championship in 2010, and Lenarduzzi admitted that there were discussions about changing the format of the competition — but no changes will occur in 2010.
Instead, there are promises that teams will field their best sides at all times.
Last season, Vancouver watched on the sidelines, knowing it would clinch the title as long as the Impact did not lose by four goals at home to Toronto. But the Impact, with nothing to play for, started a reserve team - and were trounced 6-1.
The Whitecaps are confident this won’t happen in 2010.
“The integrity of the tournament has to be maintained,” said Lenarduzzi.