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Talks heat up as USL and players negotiate implications of coronavirus pandemic

Long story short, there’s a lot to sort out.

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-Sacramento Republic FC at San Jose Earthquakes Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

With professional soccer returning to places like South Korea, Germany and Costa Rica in recent weeks, and plenty of talk over what could happen in North American sports leagues, the status of the USL Championship has been more obscured than other competitions.

But recent reports and developments indicate the decisions of whether to restart the league and under what circumstances, as well as what financial relief is considered fair for all sides, have been heating up in recent days.

With the league and USL Players Association, a group to represent the players that has been recognized by the league but does not have a working Collective Bargaining Agreement in place, negotiating over pay cuts for the players, that has taken the bulk of the news regarding the USL Championship.

After the league’s first proposal left the USLPA unhappy, they offered a counterproposal and the sides have been negotiating back and forth since then. Broadly speaking, the league wants fairly deep cuts taken by players because teams in the league are largely dependent on gate receipts and the prospects of that returning anytime soon aren’t good. The players want their contracts to be enforced for the year, given that basically every player makes “regular people” salaries and they may not have the luxury of stretching their dollars like millionaire pro athletes. Jeff Rueter reported in The Athletic on Wednesday that only about 20 players in the entire USL Championship earn over $100,000/year.

To help drum up support, the USL Players started a social media campaign, #StandWithThePlayers, that drew a lot of positive attention to the players’ cause. Again, since most players are not living high on the hog, I think fans are generally more appreciative of the players’ efforts to keep pay cuts or the threat of having contracts voided outright at bay.

They kept the momentum going with players around the league producing video messages on social media. For Sacramento Republic, forward Cameron Iwasa recorded and released a message Wednesday:

And the league issued a direct response on social media, which would seem to indicate the battle for public opinion is turning in the players’ favor (at least for now):

To me, this is a remarkable response, and really pretty humane as far as these things go. Management typically does not basically say “Negotiating on these tough topics sucks, but we’re trying here,” and we’ll see if they hold to this stance in the future.

As for the restart of the USL Championship and Sac Republic’s season, Rueter’s report claims mini-hub tournaments organized regionally or limiting play to smaller geographical regions remains on the table. It also seems no season restart at all also remains on the table.

To me, some of this might shake clear if and when other North American leagues, particularly MLS, settle on a plan to restart and implement it. If they can do that successfully, I think USL team owners may see ways to make a restart work for them. But for now, there’s plenty of haze regarding the prospects for USL in 2020 and we’ll let you know which developments arise as we learn them.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.