The US Open Cup is once again upon us and as an annual rite of passage articles are being written on how to fix the tournament to make it more relevant. One suggestion I wholeheartedly embrace is to have a draw for who hosts a game not a bidding process. MLS sides have won each of the last nine Open Cups largely because as larger clubs they usually host matches against lower tier opposition, even in the final.
But another change has to take place. Given MLS success in winning the event, and that Americans love an underdog, MLS representation and also that from the PDL and USASA must be increased. Right now it is quite ludicrous that every USL-1 and USL-2 team automatically gets into the Open Cup. This luxury is not afforded to any MLS club who must either qualify via their finish the prior season or through a qualifying tournament.
PDL clubs must qualify through their own qualifying setup while NPSL, PCSL, and local amateur sides all have to fight through a grueling USASA process to make the Open Cup Draw.
This is simply unfair. Looking at the potential draw this year, the amateur club that draws a bad USL-1 team, let’s say the Minnesota Thunder or Miami FC has a very good chance of winning. Clubs like Miami FC which have not taken the Open Cup seriously in the past do not need to be rewarded for being in the second tier of American footbal with an automatic Open Cup bid. (No disrespect towards the Minnesota Thunder who have a fantastic history. But this season they should not be in the Open Cup just as MLS’ current laughing stock, FC Dallas is thankfully not in the tournament either.)
Increased PDL and USASA participation will also increase localized interest in the event as these clubs represent the very grassroots of football in this nation, and many of the small communities and suburban neighborhoods that embrace the game. They are literally localized club teams which makes their stories much more compelling than those of the professionals that make up the lower ends of USL-1 and USL-2.
Here is my proposal: USL-1 and USL-2 automatically qualify twelve teams total down from the current sixteen. Six from USL-1 and six from USL-2 will qualify through a knock out qualifying tournament like MLS currently has. No USL-1 or USL-2 teams will automatically qualify for the event. Some USL sides like the Charleston Battery, Carolina Railhawks and Rochester Rhinos are sure to take these matches seriously and will likely qualify. Others like Miami FC can field reserves if they choose and get on with the business of the USL-1 season.
MLS will be given one additional spot allowing a playoff team that previously had to enter the qualifying tournament to be in the draw automatically. This team will enter the tournament in round three. The other three vacated USL spots will be divided up between USASA qualifying and the PDL.
Seeing more truly amateur teams in the Us Open Cup will increase the romanticism of the competition and by eliminating some dead wood from USL, the competition will be more lively and meaningful every season.