The rocket scientist Wernher von Braun is reported to have said "I have learned to use the word 'impossible' with the greatest caution." While his sentiment is more sweeping than a labor agreement between an adolescent sports league and its players, it would certain seem to apply to the new labor agreement signed between Major League Soccer and the players union. Free agency, described as "a foolish place to waste time" as recently as a week ago, is reported to have come to North America's top soccer league.
The details of this arrangement are still trickling out, and may not be fully known for some months. The rough framework, however, appears to open the door for increased freedom of movement between teams for players who are at least 28 years old and have played in the league for eight seasons. Based on the current player pool, those benchmarks appear to apply to roughly 15% of the players in the league.
During the closing stages of this negotiation, as details started leaking out via Twitter about the possible frameworks for free agency, I dug into my archives and tried to assemble a list of affected players. The first version, which surfaced over the weekend, would have conferred free agent status only to players over the age of 32, with ten consecutive years of service to a single team. That threshold has been passed only 15 times in the entire history of the league, and only one active player - Brad Davis - would have qualified.
Players in MLS History With 10 Continuous Years On One Team
|Chris Armas||1998 - 2007||Chicago|
|Davy Arnaud||2002 - 2011||Kansas City|
|C.J. Brown||1998 - 2010||Chicago|
|Brian Ching||2003 - 2013||San Jose / Houston||* depending on how you treat the Dynamo relocation|
|Brad Davis||2005 - 2014||San Jose / Houston||* depending on how you treat the Dynamo relocation|
|Landon Donovan||2005 - 2014||Los Angeles|
|Kevin Hartman||1997 - 2006||Los Angeles|
|Cobi Jones||1996 - 2007||Los Angeles|
|Shalrie Joseph||2003 - 2012||New England|
|Chad Marshall||2004 - 2013||Columbus|
|Pablo Mastroeni||2002 - 2012||Colorado|
|Bryan Namoff||2001 - 2010||DC||* did not play in 2010, but was on the roster|
|Duncan Oughton||2001 - 2010||Columbus||* missed 2005 season through injury|
|Logan Pause||2003 - 2014||Chicago|
|Matt Reis||2003 - 2013||New England|
|Bobby Rhine||1999 - 2008||Dallas|
|Gonzalo Segares||2005 - 2014||Chicago|
The second (and ultimately final) framework is considerably broader. Of the 521 players who made an appearance in league play last season, at least 84 will be eligible for free agency at the end of their current contract. This pool of players breaks down as follows:
The positional breakdown underscores the longevity of goalkeeper careers, as they account for a larger share of the free agent player pool than would otherwise be expected.
|New York City||4|
|New York Red Bulls||2|
Please note: several players nominally eligible for free agency under this new agreement have either retired since last year, or are no longer on an MLS roster.
Columbus appears to have two eligible players, defender Tyson Wahl and forward Kei Kamara. Toronto is the only team without any eligible players, while Orlando (Eric Avila) and Vancouver (Jordan Harvey) also have one such player. On the other side of the spectrum, San Jose and DC share the league lead with six players on the list. Houston, Colorado, Salt Lake, and Seattle follow with five apiece.
It bears noting, as the league enters this period of free agency, that players on this list will still need to play out their contract before having the freedom to switch teams. The league has traditionally not released contract details, which makes the task of determining which of these players will actually become free agents somewhat more difficult.
As with many things around Major League Soccer, observers will have to watch how this continuing saga plays out before drawing any meaningful conclusions.