Atlanta United’s Larentowicz unloads on Garber, MLS

April 28, 2018 Atlanta: Atlanta United midfielder Jeff Larentowicz scores an apparent goal past Montreal Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush but the United were ruled offsides on the play during the first half in a MLS soccer game on Saturday, April 28, 2018, in Atlanta.  Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
April 28, 2018 Atlanta: Atlanta United midfielder Jeff Larentowicz scores an apparent goal past Montreal Impact goalkeeper Evan Bush but the United were ruled offsides on the play during the first half in a MLS soccer game on Saturday, April 28, 2018, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Atlanta United's Jeff Larentowicz said he doesn't hold grudges, but he also didn't hold back in criticizing MLS and commissioner Don Garber over and over Thursday during a Zoom call to discuss the collective bargaining agreement negotiations between the MLSPA, of which Larentowicz sits on the board, and the league.

  • He described Garber's threat to lock out the players as "disgusting" and "bullying;"
  • He said the league has yet to answer some questions about its proposed Orlando tournament,  saying there are several unanswered questions and being asked to take a leap of faith makes him question things.
  • He described the league's intention to the force majeure clause, arguably the key sticking point in the negotiations, as characteristically "over the top and somewhat nonsensical."
  • Lastly, he said because of the responsibility he felt to the players, there was no way he was going to walk away and that the league gave him plenty of incentive to keep fighting.

It was a hard-nosed performance similar to what he’s done in his 420 regular-season performances.

Delving into the topics more deeply, Larentowicz said he hopes the league will use the next several weeks to close the holes he sees in the Orlando plan. Teams are supposed to start arriving June 24, with games starting around July 9. Larentowicz said he thinks Atlanta United wouldn’t arrive in Florida until early July, which would be allowed because the team is on track to be one of the first to start large group training, whenever MLS allows it. The team was among the first to do individual voluntary training and small-group training.

Garber said that there will testing done again and again of players in Orlando. Larentowicz said that the epidemiologist used by MLSPA also seemed confident that there will be enough testing of the players.

Still, Larentowicz has questions.

“There are so many questions because the list of things: the virus, the testing, return to play, what’s life in the hotel going to be like, when are we going  to leave, how long are we going to be there, how many games are we going to play, when are we going to train, how are we going to train, how are we going to eat, how are we going to be tested, how are we going to be quarantined, how do you deal with players that are quarantined, how do you deal with a test that’s positive after a game, every single level of things has questions that lead to another question,” he said.

“I mean, you’re staying in a hotel, you’re social distancing, everyone’s wearing masks, we are all staying on different floors, but how do you use the elevator? Do you fit 10, 12 guys in an elevator? We’ve all been to games. We’ve asked so many questions. They have slowly trickled back toward us. I can’t say the tests have only been about return to play. Everyone has different needs and has different concerns in this.

“That’s why I said this bargaining period was one of the most difficult because you have 730 players at different stages of their career with different concerns. How do you marry all of those to create one agreement that draws the straightest line from yours to the most points?”

Larentowicz said some have been answered, but now it’s the job of the league to protect the players.

“I can tell you that they are taking 2,000 peoples lives into their hands,” he said. “They better have it sorted. It’s on them.”

He said that players asked on every single call what would happen if one of them didn’t feel comfortable competing in Orlando. MLS on Wednesday said that every player must travel with their team unless there are special circumstances. Larentowicz said they were told that those who don’t attend could be treated as hold-outs and fined. Atlanta United President Darren Eales said he is waiting to receive from the league details about the tournament, but that player safety is paramount. He said he and Vice President Carlos Bocanegra will travel with the players.

“If we have issues and are worried about risks to take those up with our clubs and see what discussions we can have,” Larentowicz said. “That’s going to be on each player.”

Teammate Alec Kann said the players are taking a risk going to Orlando and was glad the the MLSPA was able to negotiate down the length of the tournament.

After the tournament, Larentowicz said that Garber said there would be only nine more games.

“Not sure what he meant by that,” Larentowicz said. The league has been asked to clarify that fact.

Larentowicz seemed most aggrieved by Garber’s strategy to possibly lock out the players if they didn’t reach an agreement by Tuesday. That deadline was then pushed to Wednesday, which is the date the players voted on the modified CBA.

“To make that threat, on the heels of them asking for collaboration in an open discussion to find a way to get through a difficult time really doesn’t sit well with me at all,” he said. “It will take me a bit of time to get past that myself.”

Kann agreed, saying the league lost a lot of credibility with the players after threatening to lock them out in the middle of a pandemic and amid the economic and social currently upheavals happening in America.

“It’s going to take a long time for the league to earn the trust of the players again,” he said.

Negotiating the force majeure clause, insisted on by the owners amid the COVID-19 pandemic, was the lever for the threat of lockout. Larentowicz said that Sunday night he told his wife that he felt the players were going to be locked out. The two sides eventually settled on something similar to what the players wanted.

“Not only did the threat not make sense, but if you want to make that threat on this, have at it,” he said. “When you are enacting a force majeure, the league is in trouble, too. The players are in trouble.  That’s an acknowledgement that something is going on. We aren’t fighting over free agency. What we were asking for is more or less industry standard. They were asking for something, which is not out of character for them, over the top and somewhat nonsensical.”