The U.S. Open Cup Venue Change Controversy
Here’s the backdrop: if the Silverbacks won their second round match against the Georgia Revolution (which they did), they were drawn to host the three consecutive defending champions Seattle Sounders at Silverbacks Stadium. You would have to believe the gate receipts would be massive in the capital city of the state of Georgia.
But while the North American Soccer League side was already starting to promote the game, something was amiss in the Twitter world. Independent news site TheCup.us, through their Twitter handle @usopencup, broke the rumors that the Sounders made a phone call to move the match to their second home of Starfire Sports Complex.
It took at least an hour to get a final decision once all second round matches officially ended, with the Charlotte Eagles winning on the road at the El Paso Patriots. The deed had been done and the venue change was made.
Now if you listened to my US Open Cup Round 2 Review show, Brian Quarstad of Inside Minnesota Soccer, explained in the movie “A Shot at Glory” about a second division Scottish side hosting a Scottish FA Cup match and the owner selling the rights to their opponents that became the home side.
In a statement to the supporters of the Silverbacks, Chairman Boris Jerkunica said this. “The decision associated with the venue change wasn’t easy, by any means. Seattle Sounders FC presented us with an offer that we simply couldn’t refuse, and in the end, it was a decision that was based on the balance between instant gratification and long-term improvement.”
And it’s not trivial, hosting an event like a U.S. Open Cup match, especially against a well-supported team like Seattle. For one thing, there is a surcharge leveled before the match by the United States Soccer Federation. For Round Three, it is reportedly $12,000, plus 15% of any proceeds over $100,000 (thanks to TheCup.us for this information). For Round Four, it rises to $18,000. In other words, these lower-division clubs must make a blind investment, hoping that the seats in their park are filled by paying customers.
The Silverbacks have already laid out the way that this influx of cash from Seattle will benefit fans and the club. They will host a Fan Appreciation Night on June 16th, offering free tickets for fans to witness their derby against their NASL rival, the Carolina Railhawks. The money should also help the technical staff to identify more talent to bring to the club. Atlanta will also host an exhibition game against an MLS side in this deal.
Now as I have said during the show, I understand that professional sports are a business. I understand that some form of financial transactions will be made. Yet there is something within me that says the integrity of the U.S. Open Cup has been affected.
Yes, I know what happened last year with Hans Backe not taking the trip to Chicago, and charged assistant Mike Petke with managing the Red Bulls in the Quarterfinals. At least they have travelled when they are the road side. The Los Angeles Galaxy will make their trip to WakeMed Soccer Park in the Research Triangle area to face the Railhawks.
What about the new darlings of the US Open Cup in Eric Wynalda’s Cal FC who traveled to Wilmington, North Carolina and defeated the Hammerheads handily? Not only did they go across country for round two, but a road trip to Kitsap, Washington has to be taxing on a USASA side as well. But unfortunately for them, they don’t have corporate backing and a 30,000+ seat cauldron to help them change the course of play in the competition.
We already know how the supporters of the Atlanta Silverbacks feel. Head over to the clubs Facebook page and read some colorful comments. They are severely disappointed at ownership selling their opportunity to watch their club have a go at the Northwestern giants. After going thru a self inflicted hiatus and returning to second division soccer, the fans were returning until this moment came about.
Regardless if the Silverbacks do or don’t have a chance against the three-in-a-row defending US Open Cup Champions, the point was that the fans of the Silverbacks were ready to see an MLS powerhouse. Sadly that opportunity has been taken away.
Whether you want to blame Silverbacks ownership, the Seattle organization for seeking this out, or the United States Soccer Federation for permitting the sale of hosting rights, it does nothing for the Atlanta soccer market. Even if Atlanta miraculously ventures to Washington state and defeats the holders,
their fans will only hear about the feat through the grapevine. What a day it could have been in Silverbacks history, but with the way finance works in American soccer, the dollar was worth more than the day in the sun.
Editor’s Note – As a commenter pointed out, Seattle streams their U.S. Open Cup matches, so anyone who would like to see this match can watch at Soundersfc.com. If watching an online feed simulates being at Silverbacks Stadium watching the match live and in person, then there may never be a reason to attend a soccer match (or seek a home pitch advantage) again.