MLS agreement reached; crisis averted

Monday, March 22, 2010; D02

"Where have you gone, Landon Donovan?/

A nation turns its lonely eyes to you/

(woo, woo, woo)"

In a world gone mad, on a planet spinning violently out of control, the country woke up the other morning to face the unthinkable:

No Major League Soccer.

MLS players voted to strike if a new collective bargaining agreement was not reached by this week, with the league's season opener scheduled for Thursday. Meaning that, for the first time since its inception in 1996, we would be MLS-less and hopeless.

No MLS? Why don't you just take away 7-Elevens, sunsets and our most basic freedoms?

Just a year ago, 6,524 fans in Dallas gathered for the Chivas USA-FC Dallas match; what would they do now? Just a year ago, 6,922 congregated in Kansas City for the Earthquakes-Wizards match; what would they do now? Just last November, 7,416 souls poured into New England for a Fire-Revolution playoff game; what would they do now?

Sure, U.S. sports fans faced a truncated NFL season in 1982 and 1987, a canceled World Series in 1994, even an entire NHL season wiped out in 2004-05.

But this was different. This is Major League Soccer, a way of life in dozens of homes in dozens of communities from Poughkeepsie to Pasadena.

Thankfully, an agreement was reached Saturday, with talks supervised by George H. Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. After helping avert an MLS strike, Cohen then went home and replaced the filter in his furnace.

I'm happy for the people of Philadelphia. The city that gave birth to the American Revolution had been without Major League Soccer for more than three centuries; it finally landed an MLS franchise in 2010 only to see a work stoppage threaten its good fortune.

(Column Intermission: Bryan Kelly of Spokane, Wash., e-mails, "Your article last week was pure crap." Perhaps. But let me explain how the creative process works. Some days you're "feeling it," some days you're not. Even if I'm not feeling it, I've got to write it. I simply did the best I could in the time I was given, and no animals were harmed in the making of that column.)

(Column Intermission P.S.: Even pitching greats like Sandy Koufax or Roger Clemens would have off days, no? I mean, every once in a while Koufax might be roughed up for three runs in the second inning and get pulled in the fifth. If column writing worked the same way, I would've been yanked out at the 350-word mark last week and replaced by Mike Lupica or Bill Simmons.)

The MLS players' union had voted, 383-2, to authorize a strike; this was the highest MLS score in history, eclipsing the Los Angeles Galaxy's 7-4 win over the Colorado Rapids in 1998.

The strike would've had no direct effect on injured Galaxy midfielder David Beckham, whose MLS contract does not require him to play in any league games.

According to the union, player income averaged $147,945 at the start of last season; however, if you remove Beckham's salary from the equation, that number dips to $6.50 an hour, plus meals.

Indeed, the union had legitimate issues, regarding guaranteed contracts and free agency. But I have always felt that those that provide an essential service to the community -- police, teachers, MLS players -- should not be allowed to strike.

Heck, a shootout would've made more sense than a strike.

Anyway, for those of you itching for MLS to start, I have devised a multiple-choice pop quiz to keep your head in the game. The exam serves two purposes: It will separate the Peles from the pretenders, and it will allow me to end this column!

1. Which team won the 2009 MLS Cup? (a) Real Salt Lake; (b) D.C. United; (c) Columbus Crew; (d) Hounslow Harriers.

2. Who is the MLS commissioner? (a) Gary Bettman; (b) Gary Oldman; (c) Don Garber; (d) Don Corleone.

3. Who is the leading scorer in MLS history? (a) Cobi Jones; (b) Jaime Moreno; (c) Sidney Crosby; (d) Jess Bhamra.

Note: Correct answers will appear after the flopping competition during this year's MLS all-star weekend.

Ask The Slouch

Q. Every year the Cleveland Indians trade all their good players at midseason and then play better. Do you think they will get rid of their good players in spring training one year and make a run at the World Series? (Tom Finan; Tallmadge, Ohio)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

Q. Would ESPN have a daily curling show if the best teams were from New York and Boston? (Bill Kauzlarich; Farmington, Ill.)

A. Keep the cash drawer open, sugar.

Q. Do you think Bud Selig will require the Pirates to win a play-in game this spring to qualify for the National League season? (George L.W. Werner; Sewickley, Pa.)

A. That's another front-line winner!

Q. Will the judge consider Gilbert Arenas's shooting percentage at sentencing this week? (J. Seidel; Huntingtown, Md.)

A. We're going to have to dip into petty cash, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just e-mail and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!

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