Many know that while I am a huge soccer fan and a fan of my local Philadelphia Union, I am not a fan of MLS at all. While the quality of play leaves a lot to be desired, my main complaint with the league is the way it (for me) sucks the soul out of the game, with all of its complex rules for signing players, parity mechanisms such as player lotteries and drafts, as well as the fact that many games mean really nothing at all since over half the teams make the play-offs and there is no relegation. Finishing 10th gives you the same chance of winning the title as finishing third. Finishing last is no different than finishing 11th. In many ways it feels a bit contrived.
The U.S. Open Cup on the other hand is pure competition. Similar to the FA Cup in England, all professional teams compete in it and all semi-professional and amateur teams are eligible to qualify. It is a single elimination knockout tournament that has existed since 1914, making it the oldest club competition in the USA and actually one of the oldest in the world.
In a world of corporate power and big money, the recent popularity boost of the Cup is evidence of supporter power. Ignored by MLS and barely promoted by USSF, it was fairly under the radar until the Seattle Sounders took the tournament by storm, going deep in the bracket while still playing in a lower league, then winning it three straight times upon joining the MLS. Fan Interest increased and teams started taking it seriously, with Sporting KC finally knocking Seattle off their perch.
My home team, the Philadelphia Union, was formed by MLS five years ago and has been the epitome of mediocrity since its inception. Only one trip to the MLS Cup playoffs so far and only one decent run in the USOC meant that as fans we were starving for some success. This year, after a terrible start in the league, they began to carve out a cup run. An extra time win over Harrisburg City was followed by a very controversial extra time win over the legendary New York Cosmos. The Union found themselves in the quarterfinals, where they comfortably defeated the New England Revolution. In the semi-final they defeated FC Dallas on penalties, and the final was to be at home against the mighty Seattle Sounders.