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USL Over Represented in Open Cup


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.

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  1. matt

    March 18, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    Hi Guys,

    I’m interested in this discussion and would like your opinion on my ideas. Please read here:

  2. Atlante, Barcelona...

    May 28, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    You said that it’s unfair that not all MLS clubs get to participate in the US Open Cup. Then is it fair that the ones that do get to skip right to the third round? How about naming the two rounds of the MLS play-in tournament US Open Cup rounds 1 and 2. There, now they’ve participated in the Cup.

    ^^^ Good point. Kartik is basically just arguing semantics. The 1st play-in round is the same as the USOC Round of 64. The 2nd play-in round is the same as the USOC Round of 32. It’s all semantics. Maybe Kartik did not think that through.

  3. Daaaaave

    May 27, 2009 at 10:29 pm


  4. adam

    May 27, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    Your worst post ever. Thankfully you next post above which I will comment on was much more logical and clearly better thought through.

  5. larry

    May 27, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    I like this proposal but go one better. Reduce USL-1 and USL-2 to four teams each/about half the eligible teams from each league. Add more PDL and USASA sides and also allow every MLS playoff team in.

    I love the idea of more PDL and USASA teams. That’s what cup competitions are all about. We love to see Horsham but who the hell wants to see Leicster City?

  6. Bill

    May 27, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    So more matches between the Chicago Fire and Lynch’s Irish Pub will improve credibility? How exactly does that work?

  7. Kartik Krishnaiyer

    May 27, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    The point fan is that USL-1 and USL-2 are over represented versus MLS. PDL is part of USL but it is under represented in a way. This is an OPEN cup. That’s the lure of the competition. Eleven of us from this site could put together a team and try and qualify. Taking away amateur spots and giving them to professional teams defeats the purpose of the competition. Taking away spots from second tier professional leagues and reassigning them to the first division in this country and to amateur teams makes the cup more vibrant and relevant, and quite frankly more credible.

  8. Matt

    May 27, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    So you want to take away spots from the USL and give them to PDL and the amatuers?

    I was thinking the other way around…all mls teams, usl1 and usl2 should play. Take spots away from the bottom feeders.

  9. Fan

    May 27, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    You are saying the USL is overrepresented and your solution is to give more spots to the PDL, which is part of the USL?

    Your amazing string of absurd illogical statements continues unbroken.

  10. Bill

    May 27, 2009 at 11:29 am

    You’re joking right?

    You said that MLS clubs won each of the last nine Open Cups largely because they host the matches against lower tier teams. In 2008, there were 12 matches between MLS and USL clubs, MLS team hosted 7 of them. In 2007, there were 13 MLS-USL matches, and the MLS hosted only 4 of them. The reason why MLS clubs win, is because they’re better. The bidding process ensures that the home team puts an effort into getting people to show up at the match, which in my opinion is more important than are random draw.

    You said clubs like Miami FC have not taken the US Open Cup seriously, implying that USL clubs don’t take this competition seriously. Go to and look at the match reports for some MLS vs. USL games and you’ll see that in almost every match, the MLS club is starting a lineup littered with reserves. I was at the Carolina-Kansas City match last year and saw Carolina take a 2-0 lead with Kevin Hartman, Jimmy Conrad, and Jack Jewsbury sitting on the bench for KC.

    You said that it’s unfair that not all MLS clubs get to participate in the US Open Cup. Then is it fair that the ones that do get to skip right to the third round? How about naming the two rounds of the MLS play-in tournament US Open Cup rounds 1 and 2. There, now they’ve participated in the Cup.

    And while I’d love to see more PDL and USASA clubs in the tournament, their budgets sometimes cannot afford it. As an example, the Greenwood Wanderers didn’t show up this past weekend to the Region III finals. How bad would it look for a USASA team not show up for a US Open Cup match?

    All that said, there is room for improvement. Personally, I’d like to see the field expanded to 64 teams with all MLS, USL-1, and USL-2 clubs participating, with the remaining spots filled by PDL and USASA clubs.

    But if you want to make the tournament more relevant, you could start by giving a CONCACAF Champions League spot to the second place finisher as well. But that’s another discussion.

  11. Mike H

    May 27, 2009 at 11:18 am

    I don’t think USL is over represented in the US Open Cup, since all five levels of US Soccer get the same number of reps per level (8 for MLS, USL-1, USL-2, USL-PDL, USASA). The only reason all USL-1 & 2 teams make it in is due to the fact that there are only 8 teams that qualify for the tournament from those leagues. Next year that will probably change will USL-1 expansion in New York and Tampa (provided no teams fold).

    The problem is MLS teams do not care at all about the US Open Cup, unless they stumble into the finals. This is just another game where they are not going to make money and might end up having a player injured.

    On the other side, USL-1 & 2 teams almost always show the tournament respect and play their best lineup and players what to shine because they see it as their chance to get noticed by a MLS club. You are correct that the USL team might not be that great at the moment but the same can be said about MLS sides (the Crew and New England are auto MLS entries this year due to last year’s results).

    I completely agree that having the amateur teams in adds a nice local feel to it all, however those teams have even less money then your average USL-2 side so they really can’t afford to publicize it, which makes the odds of reaching the sprawling suburbs in which some of them play very low. Add to it the cost of travel and the poor field conditions if they do get to play host and it is not pretty.

    The simplest way to make the Open Cup more interesting is for US Soccer to actually make it worth something. If they could find a TV deal which would air more then just the final and a sponsor for the tournament, they would have the money to make it much better. They could increase the travel allowance to teams making it easier on lower-level clubs, pay for some promotion of the events and have the final payout be worth the fight (I believe it is currently $100,000 for the winning club). Then you would see MLS sides taking it a bit more seriously (look how they play for the $1m SuperLiga prize) and actually help buildup the lower levels of the game.

  12. PZ

    May 27, 2009 at 10:17 am

    Booting a couple of teams based on how ‘seriously’ they take the competition probably isn’t the best plan. However, how is it that all USL 1 and 2 teams (well, those eligible for the Open Cup) are in yet MLS and PDL Clubs have to qualify to get to the stage where they are actually in the competition. There should be no more than 6 teams (maybe even fewer) from each of the pro USL leagues in the competition.

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