When US Soccer made these wonderful changes to the structure of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, most of us who follow the tournament were thinking, “Thank goodness,” to a new respect of this domestic cup competition. Surely it was a positive step when they eliminated most of the qualifying rounds for MLS & the PDL.
What we didn’t expect was the large amount of upsets, where amateur sides and low-level professional teams overtook 8 out of the 16 MLS teams, which advanced a number of underdog sides to Round Four Proper. Cal FC and the Michigan Bucks gave us some great runs, starting from Round One till their demise.
US Soccer got this right during the past off-season. Many have complained (including me) when it came to the last several editions of a cheap version of the US Open Cup. The previous construction allowed six MLS sides to go in automatically by qualifying for the previous season’s MLS Cup Playoffs, while the rest had to qualify for two spots early in the year. This year, all MLS teams entered in Round Three Proper, and that led to 8 out of 16 teams being defeated by lower division sides.
All of these upsets finally got word out to the house of football. FIFA wrote an article on the US Open Cup, and I have assisted on the coverage from the Guardian back in England. When you improve the structure of the tournament, you finally get the recognition from within as well as worldwide.
But while all these things are going in a positive way, there are some things that need to change to enhance the positives for the tournament. Next season will be the 100th edition of this tournament, which is the second oldest cup competition in the world. These changes can be done either quickly or a year by year basis.
First of all, the scheduling of the tournament needs to be spread out a lot more. Having Rounds One thru Four on consecutive Tuesdays is not giving enough breathing room for the teams who enter at Round One. At the same time it can make it difficult for those who want to follow their side on the road and make travel plans. I don’t foresee US Soccer making these matches on a Saturday, but some separation would alleviate some of the problems.
The most obvious problem is television coverage. Fox Soccer Channel announced that they would not televise the championship final. Yes they showed the match as the Seattle Sounders hosted Cal FC, but if it weren’t for Eric Wynalda working for the channel, they likely would have avoided that match as well.
If this is going to change, it will take a real dedication from ESPN, Fox Soccer, or NBC Sports Network to be willing to broadcast some of these compelling matches. NBCSN has not included USOC matches in their initial contract with MLS, but we can hope that they will change their minds after witnessing this season’s edition.
I understand it’s all about money and ratings, but if you really want to grow the game on television in this country, then respect must be given to the US Open Cup – a competition that began in 1914. Fox Soccer shows FA Cup matches, helping to promote English teams, and it’s time that American broadcasters promoted the domestic tournament.
Many times I have visited TheCup.Us, a site dedicated to this tournament. There you can interact with many in each and every round in the chat room. The passion and energy for this tournament is evident when you discuss the results as they happen – especially when participants can listen to or watch on a video stream. The experience is priceless.
As I was watching the video stream of the Quarterfinal match with Sporting Kansas City hosting the Dayton Dutch Lions, they showed some pictures that I never would have thought even existed. They displayed early shots of the famed Bethlehem Steel Company’s soccer club in a parade with many local people watching a float with the old Thomas R. Dewar trophy in the middle. Another is shown at left, with a banner congratulating one of the five championships that the side won in front of that famous grandstand with thousands of people cheering for their side.
If those people gave a damn about this competition then, why can’t we give a damn about it now? This kind of nostalgia reinforces how much hoisting the Cup really means. As I said the first positive steps have been made, now it’s time to continue those positives in future editions.