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Without MLS franchise, Las Vegas back to hosting preseason matches

With Major League Soccer having said “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” to Las Vegas on Thursday, it meant that for the foreseeable future, the city that was hoping to eventually land its own team will have to settle for preseason matches involving someone else’s franchise.

In Sunday’s case, that someone was the Colorado Rapids, who have visited the city each February for the last three years. Sunday, before an announced crowd of 7,100 at Cashman Field, the Rapids were defeated 2-0 by the San Jose Earthquakes in the Las Vegas Pro Soccer Challenge Cup.

Though MLS jilted the city earlier in the week, maybe Las Vegas should consider itself fortunate. The league and its players are trying to come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement, and unless a deal is struck by opening day on March 6, the players are prepared to strike.

That would mean a lot of dark stadiums, which is not what the league is looking for as it prepares to celebrate its 20th anniversary and will be launching the inaugural season of its New York City and Orlando, Fla., franchises.

As is always the case, money is at the crux of the issue. MLS is about to begin a new television deal worth $720 million over eight years. The players, whose average median salary is $91,827, would like a piece of the action.

The players also have concerns about free agency. MLS’ current format, where the league essentially controls player movement, is too restrictive from the players’ perspective. If those two items can’t be resolved, there’s a very good chance the players will strike.

“Obviously, we want to make a fair deal with the league,” said Rapids goalkeeper Clint Irwin, who also serves as Colorado’s player representative with the MLS Players Union. “We want to play soccer. But we’re prepared to walk if necessary in order to get a fair deal.

“We’re all united in this. We really believe this is important for the future of the league.”

San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski, who scored the first goal in the 43rd minute Sunday (JJ Koval had the other tally), echoed similar comments.

“It’s a critical moment for the league and for the players,” he said. “It’s time to make some adjustments.

“I love this league. I want it to succeed. But we’re closing in on the regular season and we just want a fair deal.”

Colorado coach Pablo Mastroeni said no one has talked about contracts, work stoppages or CBAs.

“It has been pretty much business as usual,” said Mastroeni, a former MLS player who is in his second year as the Rapids’ coach. “We haven’t talked about it. The guys are focused on getting ready for the season so it hasn’t been a distraction for us.”

Sunday’s game was the first time in its 32-year history that Cashman Field had played host to soccer. Half of the Las Vegas 51s’ infield was sodded over but the 115-by-72-yard layout was such that the pitching mound did not come into play. Still, it was a strange sight seeing players running around the outfield kicking a ball.

“We’re very happy with the turnout,” said promoter Nick Geber, who put on Sunday’s preseason game. “Hopefully, we can show despite what happened we can still have soccer in downtown Las Vegas.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj

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