Major Soccer League commissioner Earl Foreman painted a bleak picture last night, indicating he won't be surprised if the league votes to cease operation today after a 3 p.m. conference call.
"This entire thing is extraordinary to me," Foreman said. "Normally, things like this are a result of manipulation, hidden agendas or unrest. In this case it is ineptness and irresponsibility.
"This union for whatever purpose is not representing the vast majority of its members and someone is playing with the lives of 150 people, when it is their duty to protect the interest of these people."
However, MSL Players Association executive director John Kerr said he does not expect the league to go out of business -- and if it does, the union is hardly to blame.
"As we speak, I don't believe there is a league," Kerr said last night. "Dallas isn't in. Kansas City is out and Pittsburgh continues to be a question."
Foreman admits he has stopped talking to Dallas, but only because of the current situation within the league.
"I asked Earl Foreman for the answers to two questions," said Kerr. "I asked, 'If we agree to this can you guarantee me the league will stay in business?' He said he couldn't. I asked, 'Are you telling me the league will fold if we don't?' He said no.
"Given that, I don't think what we do has any affect on whether the league goes forward. I don't think us saying yes would confirm Dallas. I don't think it would have any impact on Kansas City. And I don't know if the rest of them are willing to play without those teams. So don't blame it on our membership."
The owners presented the players association an ultimatum July 25, which included:
* A $100,000 cut in the salary cap, from $650,000 to $550,000.
* A 5.5 percent salary cut across the board.
* A cut in roster limits from 18 to 16.
* A reduced letter of credit from $500,000 to $350,000 from the owners.
Last Thursday, Kerr rejected the owners' requests.
Since then MSL officials say they have received faxed letters from at least four teams saying its players want to accept the owners' demands, but Kerr said he has not seen any letters with signatures.
"I'm not saying they don't exist, I'm only saying I haven't seen them," he said. "The only letter I've seen has come from St. Louis and that one had every player, with the exception of one, signed in support of our decision."
Foreman said he had planned to announce the league's folding last Friday, but a counter-proposal from the union late Thursday caused him to reconsider.
"My responsibility is to present the counter-proposal to the owners and let them decide," Foreman said.
The MSL has been in this position in the past, hovering on the brink of annihilation. But in the past, things have had a way of working out. Will they this time?
"I'd rather not be a fortune teller," Foreman said. "But I think the way things are going this time is really different. I think the entire negotiation with the union is unlike anything in the past. It is chaos. Totally disruptive with no continuity. There is no ability to discuss anything. The lines of communication are almost extinct."
Kerr said the players have done all they can to preserve the league.
"Anytime they can't keep their league together, it seems we're to blame," said Kerr. "All the players do is play 52 games, 20 playoff games, 10 preseason games, and work camps and clinics. Then they want to blame us.
"I do feel frustration. [Blast owner] Ed Hale and several other owners have put a lot of time and energy into making it work. But at the end of the day, don't ask us to take the brunt of it."
Told it was being laid more at his own feet and those of perhaps six or seven irate player representatives, Kerr almost laughed.
"It is a hard way to make the headlines," he said. "I'm really proud of what this union has done. No other sports union has accomplished what we have in terms of benefits: players have freedom after two seasons, we have an arbitration system that works, injuries are protected, career-ending injuries are covered. The only thing we don't have is money."
And according to the ultimatum, if there is no change of heart by union leaders today, they won't have a league to play in either.
Foreman said he will present the MSLPA's counter-proposal. He said he will make a recommendation. He would not say what that would be, but it would not appear to be positive.
"The method of negotiation has been, well, unbelievable," Foreman said. "I've made 25 phone calls and gotten only two returned. The condition of that union is sheer chaos."
Foreman said Kerr has procrastinated and otherwise been unresponsive.
"John Kerr is not a devious man," Foreman said. "It is simply a totally chaotic situation stemming from a total lack of ability to conduct their affairs in a businesslike manner."
Foreman said he has been asked if he is out to break the union.
"It is entirely the wrong spin," he said. "I wish we had a bloody union to talk to."