Supporters groups from around Major League Soccer voiced their support for the players Monday in their ongoing labour dispute with the league.
"There is no game on the field without the players and no league without the fans, and we stand firmly together in asking for a good-faith solution to be reached promptly," said Kings in the North, a Toronto FC supporters group.
"The players are ready to play, the supporters are ready to support. Time to make it happen."
"Let them play," added D.C. United's Screaming Eagles supporters group.
The league's new season is set to kick off April 3 with training camps scheduled to open Feb. 22.
MLS invoked a "force majeure'' clause last month to reopen negotiations on the collective bargaining agreement originally negotiated last February — and reopened in June when players took a pay cut in order to resume the pandemic-interrupted 2020 season.
In invoking the clause, the league opened a 30-day negotiating window. MLS subsequently extended that deadline until Feb. 4, warning it is prepared to lock out the players if a deal isn't reached by then.
The extension came after the MLS Players Association submitted its own proposal.
MLS commissioner Don Garber has said the league lost nearly US $1 billion last season due to the pandemic, playing in empty stadiums for the most part and with increased travel and COVID-19 testing costs. The league expects more of the same this year.
"We believe that while the context is difficult, a lockout will not do anything positive for the league, the players and the fans," said the 1642 Montreal supporters group.
Added TFC's Red Patch Boys: "RPB stand with the MLSPA and their desire to return to the pitch this year."
"The ball is at your feet," FC Cincinnati's The Pride said to MLS owners. "You can choose to pick it up and go home, forcing a lockout that will put the season in jeopardy, or you can put it at midfield for kickoff.
"We urge all the owners, including our ownership group here in Cincinnati, to make the obvious choice for the sake of our community, our supporters and our team. We urge Major League Soccer to do right by their players and let them play."
Mike Newell of the Kings of the North said the pro-player statements were a co-ordinated effort by member groups of the Independent Supporters Council (North America).
"From our perspective we are solidly on the players' side," he said in an interview. "Obviously from a supporter perspective, we'd love a relatively quick resolution to this. But at the same time we want this to be a fair resolution, in a sense that we want to make sure that the players get recognized for the sacrifices that they did make and they don't have to give up too much."
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 1, 2021
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press