Hagglund, Richey discuss MLS return, CBA ratification

MLS is back! We don’t know specifically when FC Cincinnati will play their next match, but we do know it’ll likely be next month and in Orlando.

On Wednesday morning, the MLS Players Association announced the players’ ratification of an amended collective bargaining agreement that will now run through 2025. Also approved was a 2020 return-to-play plan that will start in Orlando.  

To discuss the deal, as well as play resuming and having a coach across the Atlantic Ocean, Spencer Richey and Nick Hagglund joined local reporters Wednesday afternoon for a virtual conference call. The duo, along with Greg Garza, are FCC’s three MLSPA representatives.

These are some of the main takeaways from the conference call:

Players are pleased to have the negotiations completed

“Negotiating is never easy, especially when, probably a month and a half ago, we thought there was going to be no chance there were going to be pro live sports,” Hagglund said. “There’s no winner and both sides are conceding, but ultimately, it’s moving forward and soccer is going to be back and I think that’s the important thing.”

Richey, who went through his first CBA negotiating process, built upon Hagglund’s statement and said it was a difficult but rewarding experience.

“It’s definitely been a stressful process,” Richey said. “Negotiating between us and the league, especially with the pandemic and the protests and all this going on in the world, I feel like it made it that much more difficult,” Richey said. “Both sides are excited to get back to just focusing on soccer.”

Game three or fresh start?

The upcoming Orlando tournament is unlike anything MLS has attempted before, especially during a regular season. Remember: FCC were two days away from hosting their 2020 home opener at Nippert Stadium before the league suspended play on March 12 because of COVID-19.

The tournament in Florida is a chance for the Orange and Blue to play again – but could also be the first time the team plays for head coach Jaap Stam and new assistant coach Said Bakkati. The two are still in the Netherlands waiting clearance to come to the U.S., but have been in contact with the players.

“If feels like a completely fresh start to me,” Richey said. “Just the combination of the two things, to that point, it’s like we had this mini two-game season. We prepared six weeks for that and probably had six weeks on our own before that. And now we’ve had this break and the return to play.

“For Jaap and Said to come over, I think it’s awesome that they’re happening at the same time, honestly. I think it’s a good fresh start for everyone and hopefully it’ll set us up for some good success when games start rolling in.”

Playing at Nippert Stadium again?

One of the bigger headlines surrounding returning to play highlighted what happens after this tournament in Orlando.

In a press conference earlier in the day, MLS Commissioner Don Garber said that teams would only be in Florida for a maximum of 35 days. After that, the hope is to continue the regular season in MLS markets.

Garber said there was a time he thought that was unlikely. The focus now is less on if it will happen, and more so on if fans could be allowed to attend the games.

“We want to play in front of our fans,” Hagglund, a Cincinnati native, said. “Fans made this club; they made it happen from the beginning when they came out in droves. So, to be able to see their faces again and hear them cheer would be an honor and a privilege.

“I hope it happens. And with the new stadium coming next year, there’s been a lot of good memories for FC Cincinnati and Nippert and I think we want to give Nippert a good farewell.”

Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott said on the league call earlier in the day the hope is the regular season will finish in 2020, while postseason matches could stretch into the new calendar year. Overall, the hope is to complete the entire 2020 season inside the 2020 calendar.

While there’s an excitement for Cincinnati to play in West End Stadium in 2021, there’s a chance to play again at the club’s current home – maybe soon?