In November 2022, the United Soccer League (USL) and United Soccer League Players Association (USLPA) announced that they have achieved the first Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) for USL League One. Under the hierarchical pyramid of the USL, USL League One is the second-highest league, preceded by the USL Championship and followed by the semi-professional USL League Two. Remaining below the MLS, then, USL League One is effectively American soccer’s third division, which makes this CBA the first of its kind for such a division in both the United States and the Americas as a whole. The establishment of this CBA follows the establishment of the USL Championship’s CBA in 2021, meaning that every professional league in the USL now possesses a CBA between the league and its players. USL President Jake Edwards celebrated the establishment of this CBA, using its ratification to emphasize the “deep commitment of [the USL’s] Board of Governors to the player experience.”
Proponents of the CBA have noted that the terms of the agreement significantly advance player protection, compensation, and working conditions for all League One players. Upon evaluating the terms of the agreement for myself, one of the more notable provisions was Article 14(J), which concerns the reimbursement of relocation expenses incurred by a player who signs with a new club. Upon signing a new player to a standard player agreement, a club must reimburse the player for up to seven hundred fifty dollars of reasonable and necessary relocation expenses, provided such expenses are documented. Generally, many USL contracts only span a duration of one year, meaning that players under these contracts must find a new team during the off-season and, if they are successful, relocate themselves and their families to a new city. Such a venture is often costly for League One players, so the reimbursement of relocation expenses helps ease the perpetual transition for players having to move from city to city to continue playing professionally.
Additionally, Article 14(A)(1) of the Agreement protects the financial interests of players who are either traded, loaned, or transferred to another USL League One Club without having provided their consent to the deal. According to this provision, deals completed by clubs without the consent of the players in controversy must afford the player (1) the same salary and (2) benefits materially similar to those provided in their previous contract (i.e., health insurance or stipends toward the purchase of the same that would result in reasonably similar out of pocket costs as compared to the previous benefits received). Article 14(A)(2) provides that, in the event of a player being loaned, traded, or transferred between USL clubs without their consent, the player will be reimbursed for all reasonable, necessary, and documented relocation expenses in relocating to the new club or back to the old club upon being recalled from a particular loan spell. Most significantly, Article 14(A)(2)(c) provides that such players shall be reimbursed for reasonable, necessary, and documented expenses associated with “the termination or settlement of [their] lease obligations” on residences in the cities where they originally lived, for a total that cannot exceed the lesser of four months’ rent or $4,500. With these guarantees, it appears that players who are involuntarily uprooted from their homes via the business of their former clubs will not be forced to navigate through the logistics of relocation without assistance.
While these provisions seem to indicate that the newly-ratified CBA is a complete victory for the players, there also exist nuances with the CBA that suggest certain concessions that must be given by players as well. In a brilliant article on the subject, Chris Deubert, Senior Counsel at Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete LLP, highlights that Article 24(F) of the CBA requires a player to split the costs of arbitration resulting from a dispute between themselves and their club. This provision seemingly contradicts both the American Arbitration Association (AAA) and Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services, Inc. (JAMS), which both require employers to pay arbitration costs unless the employee can afford them. This exception is potentially inapplicable to the majority of USL1 players on their current salaries, so it will be interesting to observe whether any problems arise from the enforcement of this arbitration provision. Regardless of these concessions, however, it is certainly true that the ratification of a collective bargaining agreement for the third division of American professional soccer is a tremendous step in the right direction for the support of the players in this country. USL1 is a league close to my heart, as some of my former collegiate teammates and coaches are currently part of the league’s Greenville Triumph. I’ve seen firsthand the work they and countless others have done to establish a sustainable infrastructure within that level of American soccer, and they deserve to be supported. With the ratification of the CBA, that support has now been codified, and as 2026 looms at the forefront of American minds, it will be for the betterment of the sport in this country.
Bryce Goodwyn is a 1L at Regent University School of Law. He currently works as a Dean’s Fellow completing research and administrative work. He also formed part of the recently established National Sports Legal and Business Society as the East Region Chair. He can be found on Twitter @BryceGoodwyn and on LinkedIn as Bryce Goodwyn.