The teetering Major Soccer League will remain in operation for at least this weekend. Commissioner Earl Foreman today said he will call a meeting of the league's board of directors on Monday to review the current crisis.
Last night, MSL directors said they would cease operations today if the Major Soccer League Players Association did not accept an ultimatum for a new wage scale. Directors added that there was no room for negotiations.
But Foreman said in today's statement that he will present the MSLPA's counter-proposal received last night.
A complication in the situation is that while union leadership rejected ownership's demands, some players are having second thoughts, thus producing a three-sided debate.
A league source said today the MSL office has been advised in writing that San Diego, Tacoma, Baltimore and Dallas players will accept ownership demands. Cleveland and Wichita have phoned to say they are working on doing likewise.
The source said there appears to be a failure in cohesion between the union leadership and the rank and file.
* OWNER DEMANDS: Cut the roster from 18 to 16 players; reduce the salary cap from $655,000 to $525,000; no minimum salaries; a 5.5 percent salary cut across the board; and a reduction in the letter of credit each team must produce from $500,000 to $350,000.
* PLAYERS UNION: Last evening, Kerr faxed a counter-proposal to Foreman. Included in the proposal: The union will agree to a salary cap of $550,000, but players who reject a cut in salary have the right to become free agents; the union will accept a 16-man roster, if the league plays a 40-game schedule; the union will agree to a reduced letter of credit to $350,000, with $325,000 available for use by the MSLPA in return for the league granting the MSLPA the right to draw on the letter of credit for the MSL All-Star Game for payment to players.
"The problem is that these things from the owners don't come to me as proposals," said Kerr. "They come as ultimatums. Agree -- or we're going out of business. It's every season and every season. These players have taken pay cuts each of the past five years. They say it is not negotiable, but we will try."
Blast owner Ed Hale, reached prior to his departure on a business trip, said the league isn't interested.
"I don't care what the union says," said Hale. "We're not listening to counter-proposals. It's the 11th hour and we're not going to discuss it. I really want this to work, but unless something gives, and that means the players accepting the cuts, we'll be out of business."
* PLAYER DEFECTIONS: While the majority of union representatives polled their teams two weeks ago and voted to reject the owners' proposition, some players are having a change of heart. Last night, faxes from at least four teams -- Baltimore, Tacoma, San Diego and Cleveland -- advised the union its membership is reconsidering.
"If it means taking a pay cut to save the league," said San Diego goalkeeper Victor Nogueira, "then we are willing to do it."
The faxes and Nogueira's opinion were not welcome news to Sockers player rep Waad Hirmez, who despite playing for six championship Sockers teams, is making $21,000 less than he did four years ago.
"It is the wrong thing to do," said Hirmez. "If players want to go to that level, play without a union, for those salaries without insurance, they can go play for the National Professional Soccer League.
"The young players in the league haven't gone through the last five years," he continued. "Every year owners come and go, but the players are the same and every year we take a salary cut, just so the league can continue to hang on. It's getting to a point where you have to ask, 'What are we playing for, to save the league one more year?'
"It is a slow death. It comes to a point where you have to make a stand. We agreed to the cut, and then they added more conditions, so what is it about? It's time we stand up for our dignity."
Rusty Troy, who is the Blast's player representative, said he told the union prior to the original decision the Blast players were in favor of accepting the proposal.
"Obviously, it is a very delicate situation right now," Troy said. "I know the situation here and it is very tough. No one wants a pay cut, but it comes to whether you want to play. Our team is young, but the general consensus was to go forward."
The MSL has been in existence for 12 years. Through it all, it has battled the bottom line. Five years ago, the MSL salary cap was $1.4 million. Last season, the owners and union reached d dTC three-year agreement to establish a $650,000 cap, that would not be re-negotiated until the end of that contract. The average salary for the past season was $35,000. If the current request is accepted, the average will drop to $31,250.
At least one owner is against management's demand. San Diego's new owner Oscar Ancira Jr. said last night that he deplores the current requests.
"I think it makes us look bad," he said. "I was against it from the start, but I was in favor of saving the league, and some teams will fold if we don't get the concessions."
Ancira said he doesn't think people want to come out and watch players who make $21,000 or $25,000 a year.
"The players are the stars who put on the show, but with the salaries we're suggesting, they might as well work at the local 7-Eleven," he said. "But now, as a group, we've said we will fold if the players don't accept. I don't know what else we can do and keep our credibility."