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Mid-career MLS starters need free agency, but they're not likely to get it

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Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The last thing Major League Soccer needs is a strike on their hands, and despite members of the MLS Players Union being adamant that there could be one, we're probably right to be convinced that it won't turn out that way.

It's all about free agency — or at least that's we're supposed to think — and it's MLS that doesn't want players having it. Can you blame them? In any negotiations, both sides want the most possible control and power for themselves. It's sort of the natural way of things. MLS wants power over where players go, and this is especially true because of the single-entity nature of the league. The players want to decide where they go, or at least to be able to pick among the available teams.

Real Salt Lake, for the record, does that. When Nat Borchers was traded last year, and when Will Johnson was traded in the bridge between the 2012 and 2013 seasons, both players were given an option to choose the teams they went to. Obviously, that's not the same as MLS player movement for out-of-contract players — complete free agency being the goal, but some restricted free agency could come into play — but it's a sign of somebody doing something right by the players.

By allowing players to control their own careers, Real Salt Lake emphasizes the importance of players as persons. A complete lack of free agency doesn't: MLS players, rather than choosing who they sign with after their contracts expire, are placed at whatever club happens to be best-placed to draft them. In most cases, this ends up being the team with the worst record. By destabilizing continuity, MLS has a better chance to achieve that parity it uses as a defining factor.

To really make it to the next level, MLS simply cannot continue barring all free agency. With a hard (or somewhat hard, which can only by bypassed by allocation money) salary cap in the league, the risk that salaries become unsustainably inflated is diminished. While it may, in the short term, lead to player salaries inflating, it would only lead longer-term to smarter teams continuing to manage the salary cap well. Real Salt Lake's stated 'team is the star' mentality that rules the club's outward personality is the solution all teams should look at, and not just a simple cliche. Simply put, utilizing available salary across a team, with attention paid to more than just four or five — or even 11 — players, leads to success.

MLS can fight against any form free agency, but it's a mark on the league. It's not going to stop the big-name signings — Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard don't really care so long as they get their paycheck. Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and their sort get theirs, and they were ushered through the signing process by whatever questionable means were necessary at the time. Those big players might talk about free agency as the goal, but it's not the biggest impacter on their careers. It's the players who are traded in MLS like a cheap currency that stand to lose the most without free agency. Players getting shuffled from team to team simply because their salaries can't be sustained by the teams they're at, having little say in their careers? That's what should be a sticking point, and that's why MLS players have said they'll strike.

It's not the players making over $1 million — it's the players making $80,000 to $200,000 that could really use free agency the most. Maybe they'll get it during these CBA negotiations. Something tells me they won't.