What USL's first CBA means for players and clubs
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What USL's first CBA means for players and clubs
by Jonathan Rest

Historic pact gives the United Soccer League stability in lead-up to 2026 FIFA World Cup across North America, but what exactly does it mean for football's stakeholders?

This agreement provides a foundation upon which we can continue to improve the player experience on and off the field. We thank the USLPA leadership, and all our players, for their vision, hard work and collaboration throughout this process. We also commend our Labor Committee for its essential role in helping us reach this achievement.
Jake Edwards
President, United Soccer League

At the end of October, the USL and United Soccer League Players Association (USLPA) ratified the USL Championship’s first CBA, the first of its kind for a professional second division men’s league within the CONCACAF region.

 

The five-year CBA increases the overall investment in players and establishes a minimum compensation structure, new standards for player contracts, per diem rates and appearances. It also includes new requirements for working and living conditions and a new set of grievance procedures.

 

Here are some key takeaways from the agreement:

 

Longer minimum contracts

 

This season, players’ contract lengths range from just seven months to a full-year term, depending on the club. From 2022, while teams will be encouraged to continue to offer 12-month contracts, the CBA stipulates a minimum contract length of 10 months, giving players more financial stability.

 

Free agency

 

Players have retained free agency rights for all, with no waiver mechanisms and no restricted free agency. This means USL players will continue to be able to move clubs at the end of their deals without hurdles.

 

Contract terms

 

The CBA provides a framework for clubs to structure options in contracts. For example, a player contract will not be able to include more than two options adding to a total of three years.

 

The maximum length of a contract will be six years, giving clubs the ability to tie down key players to long-term deals and protect transfer values. Long-term planning can be enforced, particularly with the 2026 World Cup in USA, Mexico and Canada on the horizon, which will heighten the commercial appeal of the USL.

 

Salary cap?

 

The CBA gives the USL the option to establish rules to implement a ceiling for clubs’ spending on salaries, health benefits, per diem, housing and agent’s fees. It sets a minimum value for any spending caps for each of the next four seasons, starting with $1.88 million in 2022 and increasing to $2.25 million in 2025. Could such a barrier impact significant investment in playing squads?

 

Buy-out

 

The CBA allows teams to buy out a player’s contract for a minimum of 50% of their base salary across the remainder of their deal (players who would not yet be 20 years old on November 30 of that season will not be eligible for a buyout). Clubs can only buy out two players in one season, and no more than three over any two consecutive seasons.

 

View from the deal makers

 

USL President Jake Edwards said: “This agreement provides a foundation upon which we can continue to improve the player experience on and off the field. We thank the USLPA leadership, and all our players, for their vision, hard work and collaboration throughout this process. We also commend our Labor Committee for its essential role in helping us reach this achievement.”

 

USLPA Executive Committee members Tom Heinemann, Trey Mitchell, and Connor Tobin added: “The ratification of this agreement is another historic moment for the USL Championship and our players. We are grateful to each player for their steadfast commitment to this long process and their unwavering desire to better the sport for the next generation.”

 

In June, the USL hired Englishman Mark Cartwright as its first Sporting Director, tasked with overseeing player development, as well as coaching and club education.

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