Major League Soccer and the league's Players Union have brought federal mediators into their negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement in order to help the two sides reach an agreement, ESPN FC reported on Thursday.
A representative of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service told ESPN that FMCS officials had stepped in after a joint request from the two parties, but did not disclose information about meeting dates or locations.
The league's previous collective bargaining agreement expired on Jan. 31, and the league and the players have been negotiating since the end of 2014. The major obstacles to an agreement have been player compensation and free agency.
According to ESPN, the presence of the mediator diminishes the possibility of a work stoppage, but either side remains able to walk away from the talks.
Mediators act as impartial observers and serve as go-betweens to help facilitate the negotiations. In 2010, George Cohen, then a FMCS mediator, helped bring both sides to an agreement.
A number of players, including U.S. men's national team star Michael Bradley and reigning league MVP Robbie Keane, have said they are willing to strike if the league won't embrace free agency. Keane told SI.com's Brian Straus:
“I’m supportive of the guys. I spoke to [Galaxy teammate and MLSPU executive board member] Todd [Dunivant] about it and he asked my views and I said, ‘I’m 100 percent behind this. We all have to be united together,'" Keane said.
When asked if he’d participate in a strike, he said, “Yes, of course. If 90 percent of the players in the league want that, if 55 percent of the league wants that, it should be. It’s a majority. If the majority wants it, I’m behind it.”
The 2015 MLS regular season is currently slated to start on March 6, when the MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy host the Chicago Fire.