MLS owners sticking to their guns on structure

LOS ANGELES - The United States could face a year without football if players do not drop their demands for changes to the league's structure, according to the head of AEG, the firm that owns the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Major League Soccer is a 'single entity' league, which has a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) governing player contracts, salaries and legal status. Contracts are owned by the league rather than individual clubs.

The players' union wants major changes to that structure, which it has called a cartel that restricts freedom of movement. Media reports said the players had approved a possible strike if a new deal was not reached with the owners.

Tim Leiweke, speaking from his downtown Los Angeles office, told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday that while the players had made some reasonable requests the overall system must remain to ensure MLS survives.

"It's not ready to stand on its own two feet yet," he said of the league. "We have work to do there to make this sport viable in the United States and what we're not going to do is throw out the very economic model that's gotten us through the first 10 turbulent years.

"After 10 years of us kind of propping this damn thing up, I don't think a strike accomplishes anything but disrespect."

Sports and entertainment firm AEG owns the Galaxy as well as half of the Houston Dynamo. When the league was smaller it owned six of 10 clubs.

Now with 16 teams, the league and players are negotiating a new CBA with the help of a mediator. The new season is scheduled to open with the Seattle Sounders hosting expansion team Philadelphia Union on March 25.

Leiweke also said owners would not simply cave in to players' demands to avoid a strike in a year when soccer would take centre stage at the World Cup finals in South Africa.

"Even if it means that we go a year without soccer, so be it," he said. "We went a long time without soccer in this country and we're not going to give up our belief in a system that works.

He also pointed to the financial struggles of many European clubs as a sign of what could happen if the MLS owners abandoned the single-entity system.

"We are unanimous within the owners," Leiweke added. "We will wait as long as it takes. We will never, ever agree to change the system."