BOSTON (AP) _ A federal appeals court gave a victory to Major League Soccer owners Wednesday, upholding a jury's decision that rejected the players' claims that the league is an illegal monopoly designed to depress salaries.

The players filed a class-action antitrust lawsuit in U.S. District Court in 1997, accusing the league of keeping salaries low to increase profits, and of conspiring with the U.S. Soccer Federation to eliminate competition for top players.

In December 2000, after a three-month trial, a jury agreed with owners that the league was not a monopoly because it competed with Division I leagues in Europe and Latin America, and with minor leagues in the United States.

``The jury found that control of U.S./Division I soccer would not comprise a monopoly,'' the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in its decision.

The ruling upheld the jury's verdict and also affirmed earlier rulings by the lower court throwing out two of the players' other antitrust claims.

Players claimed that there could be a thriving marketplace for soccer leagues and players in the United States if soccer's governing body would sanction other Division I leagues. But the jury, which heard testimony that MLS lost $250 million in its first five years, agreed with owners that two leagues would saturate the limited American interest in the sport.

Players also claimed that the centralized ownership structure of the league was itself an antitrust violation. That claim was thrown out before trial.

``The players are obviously very disappointed with the decision,'' said Jeffrey Kessler, the lawyer for the players. ``However, the fight for player rights and free agency does not end here.''