NEW YORK -- A federal mediator will be at the bargaining table when Major League Soccer's labor talks resume next week in Washington, D.C.
Management and the MLS Players Union said Friday they have accepted an offer from George H. Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, to serve as mediator.
The league's first collective bargaining agreement was to have run out Jan. 31, was extended twice and then expired Feb. 25 when players balked at adding more time. The sides have not met since Feb. 22.
Players say they want increased free-agent rights within the league and more guaranteed contracts. MLS, a single-entity structure in which the league office negotiates player contracts, opposes additional free agency rights.
The first competitive game of the year for a MLS team is Tuesday, when Columbus hosts the Mexican club Toluca in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Red Bull Arena, a $200 million, 25,000-seat stadium in Harrison, N.J., formally opens March 20 with an exhibition game between the Red Bulls and Brazil's Santos.
The league schedule opens March 25, when the expansion Philadelphia Union is at Seattle.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press