It’s awfully quiet. Not that there's anything wrong with that -- soccer fans across the U.S. and Canada all seem to be holding their collective breath that both sides are putting in around-the-clock efforts to find some compromise to avert MLS' first work stoppage. To the extent that anyone has talked, both sides are extremely reluctant to divulge any details regarding the specifics of the negotiations as the start of the season quickly approaches.
Instead of trying to place blame on either side or push either side to provide details that any negotiator would likely advise to keep confidential, I sat down with Dynamo player rep Pat Onstad to try and get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into some of the inner workings of the MLS Players Union.
After last Saturday’s practice, Onstad spent a significant amount of time talking with rookie Francisco Navas Cobo as the team hit the locker room. While it's just as possible they were discussing Cobo’s role defensively in the Houston midfield or some other team-related issue, the more likely scenario was that Onstad was getting the rookie up to speed on the labor issues between the league and union.
“My biggest role is to guide the guys in the direction we are hoping to go and inform them with as much information as possible to make good decisions,” Onstad told MLSsoccer.com. “We are lucky with a veteran group in there with guys that have been there and done that and seen the league evolve from the beginning to where it is now and seen the growth of the sport. They have a good idea of the history of what is going on between the league and the players and it makes my job easy in the locker room.”
As Onstad explained, one of the most important jobs that he has is to regularly inform the players about the status of the negotiations.
“Usually after a set of talks, we’ll have an update around the league,” noted the Canadian goalkeeper. “With this electronic age, it seems the guys in the room are talking with others pretty quickly. Word spreads pretty quickly, but we usually have a meeting a day or two after the meetings. At this stage with time being a major constraint, our communication has to be as quick as possible and we’re trying to do that now.”
In addition to serving as the player representative for the Dynamo, Onstad also serves as a member of the Executive Board of the Union.
“The Executive Board has the bargaining committee that is dealing with the CBA,” Onstad explained. “It’s more of a position to how the Union is run on a daily basis. Checking and making sure financials are in line, deciding who we put on the bargaining committee.”
On the personal side, Onstad takes his role very personally as one can only imagine the owners of the league do as well.
“It’s been a little stressful the last couple of months, but hopefully we get something done,” continued Onstad. “[I'm] just worried about getting this thing done. I really think the sport is taking off in the U.S. and Canada and I can easily see it blossoming into the No. 4 sport in this country."
For a sport that many do see blossoming, the one thing that might immediately kill that growth would be a work stoppage. Pointing fingers and assessing blame is practically impossible without being able to sit down with either side at the bargaining table. All MLS fans can do for now is sit there and cross their fingers and hold their collective breath and hope that an agreement will be reached soon.