The Major Soccer League players union -- saying team owners have gone to the well once too often -- yesterday rejected cuts in salaries and roster sizes.
And Baltimore Blast owner Ed Hale, who described the proposed rollbacks as "non-negotiable," said that if they were not accepted, one of the options was to fold the league.
"That is one of our options," said Hale. "We are checking with our attorneys to see what our alternatives are."
A spokesman for commissioner Earl Foreman said an announcement would be made today.
"I told the commissioner the player representatives would not accept," said John Kerr, executive director of the players association. "They've just come back to our guys too many times."
The proposal, drawn up at an owners' meeting in Chicago July 25, called for rollbacks in the collective bargaining agreement which has two years to run. It would represent the third set of rollbacks since the 1986-87 season.
Among the proposals:
* A cut in roster size from 18 to 16 players.
* A reduction in the salary cap from $655,000 to $525,000.
* No minimum salaries.
* A 5.5 percent salary cut for all players currently under contract.
* A reduction in the letter of credit each team is required to file from $500,000 to $350,000. The letter of credit insures players' salaries in the event an MSL team folds.
In 1987, the salary cap was reduced from $1.27 million to $850,000, plus $25,000 for developmental players. Last summer, was reduced again to $630,000 and $25,000.
Kerr said he was surprised when the ultimatum was presented by the owners. He said negotiations had been under way for several months on the salary cap when "it came to us a changed package -- the new things included the salary cap reduction with no minimum salary (the minimum salary is currently $2,500 a month for players with three or more years of experience), reducing the letter of credit and reducing the pay of players under contract.
"Our general counsel called their general counsel to narrow the gap and we were told there was no negotiation," said Kerr.
Still, last night the players association countered the owners' offer with several proposals of their own, among them free agency for any player who doesn't agree to a reduced contract, a $550,000 salary cap and a 40-game season (42 are scheduled for next season).
Foreman was traveling from Dallas last night and was unavailable for comment. Hale also was unavailable to comment on the union's proposal.
"Right now, I am very disappointed," said Hale, who is chairman of the MSL labor committee. He drafted the proposal along with Foreman. "I am at peace with myself that I've tried to do the best that I can. There are a lot of things that can happen, and none of them good."
Kerr said he was sure Hale's threat to fold the league was not idle, but he was wearied by it.
"We've gone through this the last four or five season, and we've compromised and done our best to keep the league in business and it still never ends."
MSL veterans Tim Wittman and Dale Mitchell seemed unimpressed by the crisis.
"It's not unusual to go through this every summer," said Mitchell, who has been in the league seven years, with the Blast, one. "I think between Johnny Kerr [and the league], it will be ironed out. I really do."
Wittman, a 10-year Blast veteran who was not re-signed for next season, agreed. "They are trying to get the salary cap reduced -- again. Five years straight. The union just stuck up for itself this time."
Hale said the league reduced the number of games from 50 to 42 -- a move with which the players agreed -- and the salary rollbacks made sense in that context.
"That represents a 23 percent reduction in the number of games. We were trying to reach some arrangement in line with that," said Hale.
Hale also said that the MSL owners were permitted under the CBA to reduce the roster size from 18 to 16, too.
But a spokesman for the players union said the owners could only cut the roster size if the league remained at 10 teams. The MSL, which lost its Kansas City franchise, will have eight teams if it is able to expanded into Pittsburgh, sustain the struggling team in Tacoma, Wash., and revive the team in Dallas.
But it was still business as usual for the Blast. Yesterday, the Blast offered a contract to Michael King, a Clevland Crunch forward, Blast assistant general manager Drew Forrester said. The Cleveland Crunch exercised the right of first refusal on King and has 10 days to match the Blast's offer.
Last season, King scored a career-high 46 goals for the Crunch. He led the team in scoring in 1989-90 season with 71 points (45,goals, 26 assists).