MLS Commissioner Don "Cohiba" Garber, in Manchester for the annual SOCCEREX world football business forum, where a "1-to-1" event featuring his own self was a scheduled attraction, had some conciliatory things to say regarding the state of the union.
I can't tell from press reports whether his comments were made in the course of his appearance - which is a kind of public interview session, conducted in this case by a Sky Sports reporter (which may mean that it's available someplace) - or whether they came afterwards in a general media session, but that will likely become clear when something other than exerpts become available.
In any case, according to Frank Dell'Apa, His Don-ness expects the March 25 season opener to take place as scheduled, saying
“We will not lock them out, and we are confident they will not go on strike"
He also made it clear that the league isn't going to cave on the CBA for the sake of short term convenience:
“We will not make any decisions just to avoid a work stoppage. We’ve got to make decisions that will ensure the long-term financial success of the MLS, and I’m sure we will not make any decisions to prove a point.
“I don’t think any of our players want to go on strike, and we are taking their issues very seriously. The expectations are that the season will start on time, and the expectation is that we will reach agreement with our players.
“It’s conceivable, but my expectation is not to be negotiating an agreement an hour before kickoff."
(This last is a disappointment to yours truly, if not to Pablo Chicago, as it would give me an opportunity to gin up yet another of those "cheesy countdown clocks" of which everyone has grown so very fond.)
Yet even with the caveats included, Garber always manages to put a world-class sales spin on his product; say what you will, the guy earns his paycheck, to wit:
"I would describe these as big-league problems. Years ago we had nothing to fight about, so we didn’t have labor issues. Now that the league is growing and there is a bit more at stake, the players want to see improvement in their salaries and their working conditions."
All in all, first class work from the Boss Man. His remarks read as being calm, professional, reasonable and firm without a hint of belligerence.
Now it's entirely possible that what he's thinking is "That bunch of ingrates can rot in hell; they ought to get down on thier knees and thank God - or Alan Rothenberg, same difference - that they get to spend their days swapping dirty jokes and kicking soccer balls instead of sitting in a cubicle cold-calling dentists for Met Life" but not a hint of it ever escapes his formerly bewhiskered face.
Helpfully, Dell'Apa provides some salient player comments for easy comparison, and it's an excellent example of why the players ought not to talk at all.
Nothing against Chris Tierney, I'm sure he's a fine guy who calls his Mom every day but in the field of dueling media comments he's a U8 keeper trying to stop Wayne Rooney on a breakaway:
“It’s not like the players don’t want to play this season. But, just basic rights, we’re trying to get that. Players are willing to do whatever it takes to get those things. We hope there’s not a work stoppage, but we’re ready if it’s necessary.
“The union’s made a proposal we think is fair. If you look at other leagues around the world, we’re not asking for anything more than is really necessary to run a league."
I'd happily treat those comments like Vince the Slap Chop Guy treats onions, but it's just too easy.
Suffice it to say that "basic rights" include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness but not an increase in your meal money while on the road, the "whatever it takes" comment reads like a threat and "we're not asking for anything more than is really necessary to run a league" makes him sound like an idiot, considering that the league has been running for 15 years now.
Then he tosses in a misleading statement - I'm not going to call it a lie, although I certainly could:
“For guys living in cities on their own, $12,000 is not enough to survive as a professional"
....then offers up a point which is unlikely to get much sympathy from anyone in the real world:
“But what we feel more strongly about is contracts being guaranteed, so you can’t be released at any time with four weeks’ salary."
...and concludes by a) admitting that he's basically talking out his ass b) confuses depth of feeling with justification c) inserts another threat and d) on the basis of absolutely nothing, predicts that his side will win:
“I’m not in the negotiating room so it’s hard to say which is causing more backup than others, but we feel really strongly about it and are willing to do what it takes to make it happen and I think it will be a favorable outcome for us."
Since the day all of this began (or, as they say in the Caribbean, "Day 0") the player's public statements have been disjointed, incomprehensible and/or belligerent, while the league's PR has been coherent, consistent and on point.
Yet it was the union who made the decision to cross the Rubicon and take the argument public.
It was a bad idea.