North American Soccer League club owners apparently are balking at recognizing the players union because they don't want to deal with Ed Garvey, leader of the striking union.

"We haven't exactly said we won't recognize their union," said one club owner yesterday. "I just don't feel Garvey should be leading them."

Garvey also heads the National Football League Players Association.

Derek Carroll, president of the New England Tea Men and chairman of the NASL labor relations (owners) committee, said, "We just don't think his (Garvey's) track record is favorable and we have refused to meet with him.

"I think once the subject of deportation is resolved, the players will come back. I think the players have been misled, and they know it."

"That is only another delaying tactic for refusal to accept the union," Johnny Kerr, Garvey's assistant, said here.

Garvey, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., offered a no-strike pledge in return for recognition of the players association.

The question of union recognition will go before the U.S. Court of Appeals May 4.

"We've won every court case concerning this matter," Kerr said. "We won the election and there are no legal matters in question. As far as them (owners) not wanting Garvey, they have no say in that matter. He's a part of the NASLPA. He was elected by the players when the union was formed. That's over."

Garvey and union officials eventually want to bargain with the league as a whole, rather than with individual clubs. Team owners say that would be disastrous for the league.

"We're struggling for survival now," one owner said. "There's no way we can bargain for all 24 clubs as a group. It has to be done on an individual basis. How can the multi-rich Cosmos be compared with the Rochester Lancers, who are being kept alive on a string? We can't put that club out of business.The average salaries on one team can't be matched by other teams."

"The NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) ruled we should bargain as a group simply because the other major league sports have been doing that," another owner said. "That's why we're going to court to show cause why we can't right now.

"We don't have the big TV money or the gate-sharing receipts that those other sports have. We'd be glad to sit down with Garvey and bargain if he set it up on an individual basis. We pay the players' salaries, not the league."

There were reports yesterday that players who honored the strike called Friday had begun to come back into camp.

Fort Lauderdale announced that four players, Roy Wiggemansen, Terry Park, Tibor Gemeri and Ken Fogarty, had rejoined the team following a meeting yesterday.

Portland General Manager Kent Kramer said his team held a meeting yesterday and several striking players might return to practice today.

"We were one of the league's sacrificial lambs last weekend," Kramer said. "We had 16 players on strike (Portland lost to Minnesota, 2-0) but I've heard rumblings some are coming back. If not, we'll field a team for our games."

One team, the Cosmos, had all its starting players, although they originally voted, 20-2, to support the strike.

The two-time defending league champions won their third straight game on the road in overtime, edging Atlanta, 3-2.

"The players on strike wouldn't have made the 16-man traveling team anyway," said the Cosmos' public relations director, Chuck Adams. "As of right now, none of the players who played Satruday night have changed their minds about playing this week."

Both union and management are confused about the deportation threat. The laws are vague, but it appears unlikely that players legally employed with H-1 and H-2 visas can be deported.

A statement released by an Immigration and Naturalization Service official, Tim Dorsey, Saturday night clouded the issue. He said, "Aliens used to break the strike will be in violation of the statutes and subject to deportation for participation as strikebreakers."

However, U.S. District Judge George Hart said last week he doubts foreign players can be deported and that he would stop any such action in "three seconds."

Many foreign players needed management, which insisted they could not be deported, and played in league games last week. Most striking players were North Americans.

This week is crucial. The public has had time to understand the strike, and the struggling sport will learn just how far it has come in 13 years. Both players and coaches say soccer can ill afford a continuing strike.