There were no more time extensions needed Monday as Major League Soccer and the MLS Players Association announced the ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement through 2027, allowing for the 2021 season to get underway within the coming weeks.
The negotiations over a new labor agreement came after the league exercised a force majeure clause negotiated during last year’s CBA agreements amid the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns. The adjustments to the league’s financial outlay to players include an expansion of free agency eligibility in years to come as well as team salary budget increases. But the main sticking point during talks remained the league’s insistence on the agreement’s long length, extending past the buzz of the 2026 World Cup to be hosted in North America. While prior to the extension of labor negotiations the league had set April 3rd-4th as the planned first week of matches, start dates for preseason gatherings and matches were not confirmed as of Tuesday morning.
So the dread paralyzing the streets of America and three Canadian cities can finally rest...there will be a Major League Soccer season in 2021. While it will certainly be another unusual one with continued pandemic protocols providing many logistical obstacles including mostly empty stadiums, the ability of the league’s clubs to actually prepare and plan for such atypical circumstances this year will start to reclaim the competitive rigor of the league. Things might just start to look a little more real again.
But it will still be a difficult season for any sporting organization to navigate, and the recent overhaul of New York’s front office and bench will be tested. Often to the fanbase’s chagrin, few MLS clubs are better at sticking to a plan than the Red Bulls. In a 2021 with continued uncertainty throughout the league and planet, the latest one being devised by the club’s new leadership could see the team keep course better than most.
Amidst the labor conflict, the Red Bulls have been one of the more active MLS clubs on the transfer market in recent weeks. While a cloud still hangs over the disputed outgoing transfer of playmaker Alejandro Kaku Gamarra, the front office under second-year sporting chief Kevin Thelwell has been assertively shaping new head coach Gerhard Struber’s squad ahead of his first full season (first season longer than a single match) in New York.
Veteran center back Tim Parker was sent to Houston following the signing of Colombian youth national team defender Andrés Reyes from Atlético Nacional. English youth international fullback Tom Edwards and prolific Brazilian striker Fabio Gomes Netto have been brought in on loan deals while the conspicuously-named Venezuelan teenager Wikelman Carmona was signed with the initial expectation of seasoning with the reserve team in USL.
While the current project being built in New York is a long-term one, more delay to Struber’s first full training camp with the team would have continued to rob what should be a honeymoon period to engineer his new team. With a record of immediate production in his young management career, he will certainly be eager to get on the pitch whenever permitted.