By Simon Evans
MIAMI (Reuters) - Major League Soccer and its players face showdown talks on Sunday in a last-ditch bid to avoid a strike and a delay to the start of its 20th season next week.
The MLS Players Union (MLSPU) and the league are negotiating a new Collective Bargaining Agreement after the last five-year deal on pay and conditions ran out at the end of January with no new contract in place.
Players have repeatedly stated they want free agency to be included in the new deal and that they will refuse to play unless they get such a concession from the league.
The new MLS season is scheduled to start on Friday. Currently clubs retain certain rights on players even after their contracts have ended or he has left the league to play abroad.
Sunday’s talks will be held at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services in Washington DC and will involve a mediator from that group.
"We've got a couple of days to bang out an agreement," MLS commissioner Don Garber told a forum at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
"A lot of players, like all players in any union, have issues they want to bring up with management and they have certain rights and the process provides them with the ability to use leverage and negotiate all those points that matter, and we as management understand and accept that.
"The issues ... have been public with free agency; there's a lot of other issues and we'll continue to bang as hard as we can to try to resolve them," said Garber who added he was "hopeful" of avoiding a work stoppage.
While the negotiations have mainly involved officials from the league and the union, Sunday’s talks will include some club owners and players.
The MLSPU are being backed by the international players union FIFPro who lobby world soccer's governing body FIFA over player rights.
On Saturday FIFpro told Reuters they were monitoring the situation closely.
"The principle of free agency is one we support wholeheartedly," said FIFpro spokesman Andrew Orsatti.
"We stand by our colleagues in the United States who are presently locked in this battle which we want to see end of course favorably for the players but also in a manner which guarantees a fair and reasonable balance between all parties."
(Editing by Sam Holden)