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MLS season to begin with replacement refs as CBA dispute goes on

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Major League Soccer will lock out referees after its union rejected a tentative contract, putting Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami on track to open the season next week with replacement officials.

The Professional Soccer Referees Association said Saturday that 95.8% voted against a tentative agreement with the Professional Referee Organization, which supplies match officials to MLS, the NWSL and some lower-tier leagues. The union said 97.8% of approximately 260 eligible members voted.

A five-year agreement had been set to expire on Jan. 15, and a pair of brief extensions ended Monday.

The league said PRO will lock out the union on Sunday.

The PSRA said in a statement the tentative agreement lacked a sufficient economic package and quality-of-life improvements.

“The skyrocketing growth of MLS has significantly increased demands on officials mentally and physically, and as such has increased demands on both our professional and personal time,” union president Peter Manikowski said in a statement.

The league said PRO’s proposal for wages, benefits and travel was a 25% improvement from last year.

Messi and Miami play the MLS opener at home against Real Salt Lake on Wednesday.

MLS used replacement officials for the first two weeks of its 2014 season before reaching a contract.

League executive vice president Nelson Rodriguez said the union rejected a no strike-no lockout proposal. He said in statement PRO would use “experienced professional match referees supported by veteran VAR officials,” a reference to the video assistant referees.


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