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Real Salt Lake: Dave Checketts meets with MLS owners

With the MLS season just over a week away, the players announced earlier this week that they're planning on striking on Monday at midnight if a new collective bargaining agreement isn't reached between the league and the Players Union.

Real Salt Lake co-owner Dave Checketts said the players' announcement was very sobering but said he's ready for the fight.

Checketts met with MLS commissioner Don Garber and four other MLS owners on Wednesday in Los Angeles to discuss the current labor situation.

"We know exactly what we'll do. These are all owners who've been in the NBA, they've been in the NHL, some of them own Major League Baseball teams even today. We know what we'll do. We have a plan if the players strike," said Checketts. "I just hope the players understand the implication of the threats they're making to strike because if they do in fact go on strike, then that forces the owners to do something very aggressive and very different."

Whether that contingency plan calls for replacement players, Checketts wouldn't elaborate. But he did say the owners "will take action that will make life very difficult."

The old CBA expired on Jan. 31, but the league and the union agreed not to take action at that time. They've continued to negotiate throughout the preseason, but that will end at midnight on Monday.

The MLS season is scheduled to kick off next Thursday with the expansion Philadelphia Union traveling to Seattle. RSL's first game is scheduled two nights later in San Jose.

At the heart of the issue is free agency, something the players desperately want but something the owners aren't willing to budge on.

"It would be different if all but two of the teams weren't still losing money. That creates a situation where anything that is going to increase your players costs at all means you're going even deeper in your pocket," said Checketts. "We're not in a position with this 15-year-old league, in the midst of one of the worst economic recessions in our history, to have a significant increase in our costs. We're just not there."

During Checketts meeting with his peers Wednesday, he told his fellow owners that he has a terrific relationship with his players, and admires and respects them a lot. This is an owner, after all, who footed the bill for the players' families to fly to Seattle for the MLS Cup last November.

He fears that relationship will be forever strained if there's a strike.

"A strike would force our hand, and make us adversaries in a league where we've tried to build in a way to be partners," said Checketts.

RSL's players, who are in the midst of training camp in Charleston, S.C., weren't immediately available for comment on Wednesday.

Just like the owners impromptu meeting in California, the players are planning their own summit this weekend. Real Salt Lake's union representatives Nick Rimando and Nat Borchers are among several dozen players who are traveling to Washington, D.C., on Thursday to meet face to face with the MLS Players Union executives.

It will be a make-or-break weekend for the future of the league according to Checketts.

"In a league where we are struggling for relevance, and building new fans and a league that's only 15 years old, a strike would not only be devastating, but I think it might represent the end of the league as we know it," said Checketts.

Owners are more likely to field teams of scabs than they are to give into the players demands for free agency.

"It's not in my hands now. The commissioner is at the table. The owners are absolutely unified in supporting him. Smart people have got to sit down and bargain in good faith and find a way to make a deal. (It's) the threat of a strike hanging over us we don't respond to very well," said Checketts.

e-mail: jedward@desnews.com