NEW YORK -- Major League Soccer players voted to strike if a new labor contract isn't agreed to before the first season opener on March 25.
The league's first collective bargaining agreement, a five-year deal, originally was set to run out Jan. 31 but was extended twice while negotiations continued. It expired Feb. 25 after the MLS Players Union refused another extension.
"Recent comments from players simply reflect the fact that the players are unified and, per the results of our strike vote, will not begin the new season if a new agreement with the league is not reached," union executive director Bob Foose said in a statement Thursday.
The union did not detail the strike authorization vote.
Negotiators for management and players met Tuesday and Wednesday in Washington, D.C., in talks convened by George H. Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
Earlier Thursday, Toronto defender Nick Garcia was quoted by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. as saying: "We're anticipating not having the season starting. ... As of now, for us, we're very far apart, even with the mediator there in D.C."
Unhappy with the single-entity structure that has seen the league negotiate all contracts since play began in 1996, players want greater free-agent rights and a higher percentage of guaranteed deals.
Player income averaged $147,945 at the start of last season, according to the union. But the median -- the point at which an equal amount make above and below -- was $88,000 for 323 players listed.
"We have an understanding with the union and the mediator that we will not publicly discuss what takes place during these bargaining sessions, so we were disappointed when we saw comment from a number of players that both characterized the status of the negotiations and discussed the possibility of a strike," MLS president Mark Abbott said before Foote's announcement.
"The meetings this week were productive and we scheduled a number of additional meetings," Abbott said. "The players' comments do not accurately reflect the proposals that we've made to address their concerns or the productive nature of the discussions we've had between MLS and the union."
MLS declined comment after Foose's statement, league spokesman Dan Courtemanche said.
"This is not a change in position by the union and should not be read to reflect in any way upon what has, or has not, occurred this week in the meetings with the mediator and the league," Foote said.
The threat of a strike comes as the Philadelphia Union, the league's 16th team, is set to start play at Seattle in the league opener. While Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., is to open with an exhibition between New York and Brazil's Santos on March 20, a strike would postpone the first league match at the $200 million soccer-specific stadium, against Chicago on March 27.
Abbott said MLS ticket sales have not been hurt by the lack of an agreement.
"The league continues to function business as usual," he said.
Galaxy captain Landon Donovan, whose loan to Everton is scheduled to end after Saturday's game at Birmingham, may be able to extend his stay in the English Premier League if there's a strike.
"There's not a strike, so there's nothing to address at the moment. Landon is going to be returning after this game this weekend," Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. "We're proceeding ahead like we do a couple of weeks before any season."
Galaxy midfielder David Beckham already is on loan to AC Milan through the end of the Serie A season in May.
It is not clear whether players signed to contracts with MLS would have the ability during a strike to sign with clubs in other countries without MLS approval. MLS players under consideration for the U.S. World Cup roster could be sent to foreign clubs for training.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press