To be fair, those inside the stadium did make a very good amount of noise (although the Cosmos drum bleating the same three songs, two of which were in Spanish, the entire night got a bit boring) and the match itself was very entertaining (a 4-1 Red Bulls victory to set up a date with Philadelphia Union in the last eight). But it made me wonder, how could 48,000 people cram into Yankee Stadium three days earlier for a regular season MLS game, but only an announced attendance of 11,000 (although my Dad and I both estimated it was more like 8,000) come for a very meaningful knockout game in the oldest competition in U.S. Soccer history.
Unfortunately, the American people (at least in New York) still are not completely sold on the beautiful game of soccer and unfortunately rely on marketing schemes to get fans to come out in droves for the game. The week before last week’s “Hudson River Derby,” my Facebook was full of advertisements trying to get me to buy tickets for the game. Every time I turned on ESPN, there was an advertisement for “Rivalry Week: NYCFC vs. New York Red Bulls at 4:30 on ESPN followed by Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders on Fox Sports 1.” I must have seen the ad 20 times in the week before the match. For the U.S. Open Cup tie? Not so much. I might have seen one ad on my Facebook page the day before the match and that was it. What worries me is that apart from the diehard supporters of our sport, who will follow their team to every match, the next tier of “fans” are really just not that actively interested in the sport and do not really go for the whole “romantic” side of the sport unless it is served to them on a silver platter on ESPN, NBCSN or Fox Sports 1.
As for the Lamar U.S. Open Cup itself, despite all its history and tradition, it is a European idea stuck in an American sporting model. With the MLS Cup Playoffs also being a knockout cup competition with the incentive of being named league champion, the U.S. Open Cup seems a bit superfluous. Take, for example, the New York Red Bulls. They have never won a trophy (apart from a 2013 Supporters Shield) in their 20-year history and this year for the first time they have decided to take the U.S. Open Cup seriously by naming nearly full strength lineups in the last two rounds. But how seriously are they really taking it? The week of the quarterfinals, a date that has been set in stone for months, Red Bulls set up a money grabbing, sure to be sold out friendly against English Premier League champions Chelsea. When given the option between money and the chance to progress in the premier domestic cup competition that the country has to offer, the Red Bulls took the money and ran. That unfortunately is the problem in the modern game. It’s a shame really, because the Open Cup is a great competition that is not being given the proper spectrum to shine in. The die-hards will continue to come out, but unless there is a revamp or an increase in exposure, the casual fans will either stay away or remain ignorant. To me, the Open Cup is a good barometer of how much people actually care about the domestic game up and down the pyramid and are willing to make it succeed as opposed to being lured in by heavy-handed marketing tools or big name European friendly opposition. And unfortunately in that regard, soccer still has a long, long way to go to being a top tier American sport.