The Open Cup Repeats The Question

What does the seven MLS teams exiting the US Open Cup in the Third Round tell us about the state of the competition?

By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (May 30, 2012) US Soccer Players -- It would be interesting to be able to write that the US Open Cup night of upsets really changed things.  Seven Major League Soccer clubs have… and this is where we run into trouble.  Underachieved?  Disappointed?  Perhaps the best way to put it is that these seven clubs - and potentially two more later tonight - didn't take advantage of an opportunity. 

Why is phrasing so important here?  Well, with 16 of the League's 19 teams geographically eligible for the Open Cup and all of them entering in the Third Round the expectation was that the topflight would swamp the competition.  An MLS team in every Fourth Round matchup, with most of the pairings MLS vs MLS.  Instead, the lower divisions didn't have as much trouble as anybody expected.  So back to our question.  Why is that phrasing so important? 

It's simple.  We have to account for the level of commitment by those MLS clubs.  This time last week, it looked high.  Under the new competition rules, a coin flip decides who hosts games, but there's a clause that allows for a team that loses the flip to buy the hosting rights from the team that wins.

Three MLS teams that lost the coin toss decided they'd be having some of that action, and spent to host their games.  Real Salt Lake stressed the competitive advantage, and ended up losing 3-1 to Minnesota in front of 17,212 fans.  We're going to assume very few of those fans attended Minnesota's last home game.  As for RSL, let's just say head coach Jason Kreis had to make the kind of press statement nobody enjoys. 

“They just wanted to win more than we did, which is embarrassing," Kreis said. "I think we owe a debt of gratitude and apology first and foremost to our ownership and to the management for pulling strings and working extremely hard to get the match here, and we owe an apology to our fans. That was a terrific crowd tonight for an Open Cup match, and we brought them down miserably.”

Seattle, who along with fellow buyout aficionados Portland have yet to play their Third Round game, stressed the travel problems they face as a Pacific Northwest club.  When you make a game about convenience, the expectation is you'll play to that advantage. 

Meanwhile, we had teams like the Galaxy deciding it was inconvenient for their only available designated player to travel cross-country to Cary, NC.  Beckham stayed home, and the Galaxy became one of the not-so-magnificent seven MLS teams that didn't advance. 

What do these seven clubs have in common?  That's tough to say, especially since some of these games weren't available unless you were there in person. 

Every year, we expect some MLS team to fall in the Third Round.  That's nothing new, with Columbus doing the honors in 2011.  Until this year, the Third Round was a round of 16 leading to the quarterfinals where in 20111 we got the blasé approach to game management from the Red Bulls.  They didn't send their coach or a representative eleven and crashed out to Chicago 4-0.  Again, though New York took the noncommittal MLS approach to an extreme, they weren't the only disappointment.  Richmond beat their second MLS team in a row to put a lower division club in the semifinals.  In the big picture, there was nothing really to see here.  It's almost expected.  

The organizers did away with the MLS qualifying tournament, doubled the size of the Third Round, and added a Fourth Round.  That means double the number of MLS teams in the tournament proper.  MLS bucked theory on Tuesday by putting up more disappointing results than anybody should've reasonably expected.  Then again, we're back to what was reasonable to begin with.

It's not every team treating this tournament like a golden ticket to the CONCACAF Champions League.  A lot of us have simply slotted that in as the goal for any team in the region, and that might not be the case.  If you're building a club with the MLS playoffs in mind, that Open Cup trophy and entry into the Champions League might be a step too quickly taken. 

Stumbling toward an early Champions League exit with the travel and inconvenient scheduling could hurt a club still in the building process.  We've already seen it hurt clubs that didn't have any problems making the MLS playoffs.  One thing doesn't necessarily lead to another, and opportunity doesn't mean the same thing to every club in this League.


Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves.  Please, tell me all about it.

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4 Responses to The Open Cup Repeats The Question

  1. Clayton says:

    “What do these seven clubs have in common? That’s tough to say, especially since some of these games weren’t available unless you were there in person. ”

    For what is worth this is inaccurate, all but one game was available as an online stream often from team web sites if you took the time.

    Check out http://www.thecup.us

  2. Paul Wacker says:

    Two things need to happen to help improve the MLS performance in the US Open cup. First a TV contract needs to be negotiated for the open cup games with a majority of the money put back into the teams. This will improve soccer all across the USA. Second the MLS salary cap needs to change. It would appear that players 1-11 in MLS are fairly well paid, but players 12-30 are near league minimums creating a talent depth problem for playing multiple competitions of US Open Cup, Champions league and MLS regular season games.

  3. Paul,
    You’re assuming that there would be money to be made on a television contract. My expectation is that, at least in the initial go around, the USSF would probably have to pay someone to get the games on TV (like I believe MLS did in the early days). I believe FSC even came out and said they didn’t have any interest in doing the USOC games.

    Given the attendance at many of the early round games and the alternate venues that are often used, a television broadcast may not make for particularly good viewing also. Usually there are specific lighting and viewing angle requirements for professional venues, which some places (like that warehouse in Michigan) probably aren’t setup for.

    While I’d like to see it on TV as well, I think the best shot to get that done may be to include it in the next round of broadcast contracts negotiated by MLS and USSF (for the later rounds) and to try and get the MLS teams to include the early rounds in their broadcast deals. That may be easier for some team than others, given the broadcast partnerships. For example, Seattle and Portland have pretty good broadcast deals with a strong commitment shown by their partners so far. But teams like San Jose don’t have as strong a commitment. I don’t believe San Jose’s broadcasters even travel for their MLS road games.

  4. And then Fox Soccer goes and (kind of) contradicts me. From their twitter account:
    Great news for U.S. Open Cup fans: Cal FC’s incredible run continues at @SoundersFC LIVE on FOX Soccer at 10 ET on Tuesday, June 5.