I have been a big supporter of this lovely tournament ever since I saw the old Thomas R. Dewer Cup being surrounded by DC United in a MLS Merchandize catalog back in 1997. Just getting into the sport you always knew about the league and the Cup playoffs, but never about the US Open Cup till someone informed me what it’s about. I love discussing the US Open Cup and informing those who aren’t football savy what it stands for. If you talk about Baseball & the minor leagues here was the best example I could give them. “What would happen if the Double A NY Yankees played the Boston Red Sox in a game that actually mattered and meant something” I would get a pair of wide eyed people asking me for more information.
This is the beauty of the US Open Cup, FA Cup, Scottish FA Cup, Copa Italia, Coupe de France, German Cup & so on. Cinderella can walk on to the field with her glass slipper and try to take down her evil stepmother for ninety minutes or more. In the early days of reaching the US Open Cup it would be thru qualifying using regular season matches in MLS, the USL with the old A-League (Now USL-1st), D3 Pro League (Now USL-2nd) and the PDL along with the USASA. As the tournament grew in name and stature qualifying started to get less and less with automatic bids being given to MLS sides and soon A-League sides like Rochester, Charleston, Portland & Seattle. If your club made the playoffs in MLS they would start in the fourth round while the non playoff sides entered the third round with the top four table finishers of the A-League, while the bottom four would join the top four qualifiers from the D3 league in the second round, while the next two would start in the first round.
But two years ago these things changed. US Soccer used a pathetic excuse to reduce the number of MLS sides to enter the Open Cup as there would be a large ammount of international matches for the National Team involved with the Gold Cup & the Copa America. Before the Third Round came the USA was eliminated from the Copa America. But that has remained since as MLS clubs had to go thru qualifying if you were fourth to last in the final standings of the Conference Tables.
I think there has to be a way to make this tournament have more meaning as well as a proper structure of performing in it. This season both USL Pro Leagues have eight American sides and no qualifying for either of them till the 2010 tournament as FC New York & the Tampa Bay Rowdies enter the USL-1st Division while the Philadelphia Union will enter MLS. So if you can endulge me and hopefully I have a suggestion that can make the US Open Cup better and really exciting to see.
#1 For the PDL & USASA expand thier participation from eight to sixteen spots each side. First Round will be geographic as Region 1 is PDL East, Region 2 is PDL Central, Region 3 is PDL South & Region 4 is PDL West. (Read the second section for info on a round 1 spot involving USL-2nd Division) Two clubs per divisional qualifying in the PDL and the four semi-finalists in each USASA regional tournament advances to the first round.
#2 For the USL-1st & 2nd division sides all will start in the second round proper. Outside of the USL-1st division champion and the last place USL-2nd side from final standings of 2009. The last place side will start in the first round and will face either a eastern or a southern side after a quick qualifier. Round 1 Winners will be placed in one bowl while Round 2 starters will be placed in another. Blind Draw will pick one ball per bowl to determine the match ups.
#3 All fifthteen American MLS sides and the 2009 USL-1st Division Champion (or the top club finishing in the standings or playoffs) will enter Round 3 Proper & face Round 2 winners. Blind Draw once again will setup the pairings.
#4 All Round 3 Winners will be placed in one big bowl for Round 4 Proper (Round of 16) and blind draw will once again setup the pairings. Two balls at a time will be picked. This process will continue all the way to the Semi-Finals & as US Soccer loves to do is have a biding process with all four semi-finalists on who will host the Cup Final.
This process should remain for the 2011 season as the Portland Timbers will move into MLS & there will be sixteen American sides. Fixture congestion can be avoided if you properly schedule the matches on the right weeks. I don’t think you will see MLS sacrifice Saturdays to play Open Cup Matches. They will remain on Tuesdays for everyone in US Soccer. I know that this cup needs more promotion and TV coverage to help build it’s popularity, but till the structure of the tournament is fixed, then we can be more concerned on TV coverage.
I’m not advocating that less USL & Amatuer sides get reduced, I’m for doing things the proper way. Everyone in the pro leagues should automatically go in while the Short Season PDL clubs & Amateur Adult sides must qualify for the tournament proper.