Commentary

Does the Open Cup final need a home, too?

By Ridge Mahoney
(@ridgemax)

Now that it seems certain that the still-to-be-resurrected U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame will be housed next to Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, should the federation also designate that facility as the permanent home of the U.S. Open Cup final?

Under the current format, one of the Open Cup finalists is named to host the championship game. As it is, the Union had five weeks to sell tickets and prepare operations to host the game at PPL Park and for the second straight year, the game didn’t sell out. Had SKC been chosen, there’s little doubt its staff could gear up in the time allotted to stage the final, but filling Sporting Park is not an easy task even for a team and organization as accomplished at SKC.

Not every team has the wherewithal and resources to handle the assignment, but with most MLS teams playing in and controlling their own stadiums, the lead time is sufficient. There are few weather concerns for a game in late September, and the rain and wind that descended upon PPL Park on Wednesday could occur at just about any time.

The value of a neutral venue would be the opportunity to build up a sense of permanence and tradition, and enable the game with a foothold that could be nourished and grown. Is there enough of a soccer foothold in the Dallas area to merit the opportunity and responsibility inherent of staging a showcase event, and can teams generate enough enthusiasm amongst their fan bases to drive large numbers of them to Texas in support of their teams?

One would hope that the huge soccer community in North Dallas and surrounding environs could back annual staging of the final, supported by other events designed to showcase the Hall of Fame and U.S. Soccer. Scheduling is an issue: A week of activities and programs leading up to the game would make for a festive few days, but drawing fans in midweek has traditionally been a problem for many MLS teams, including Dallas, and MLS would probably balk at playing the game on a weekend so late in its regular season. But the league has juggled schedules to assist Montreal and other teams in their Concacaf Champions League campaigns and might consider doing the same if necessary to accommodate the Open Cup final.

There’s no doubt the backdrop of color and noise provided by a home crowd greatly adds to the spectacle of a final, and that would be missing -- unless, of course, FC Dallas reached the final, which it has done three times: champion in 1997, and losing finalist in 2005 and 2007. Yet under the current format, one of the finalists gets to host the game anyway, so a homefield advantage is already built into the process.

One major question is whether FC Dallas, the North Texas State Soccer Association, MLS, U.S. Soccer and -- just as important -- the Dallas sports and business community can drive forward with such an ambitious project. One logical possibility is to meld the Open Cup final with another of U.S. Soccer’s great traditions: its Hall of Fame inductions.

This weekend, U.S. Soccer will induct Kasey Keller, Sigi Schmid and the late Glenn Myernick into its Hall of Fame, which has no physical existence. Its former home, in Oneonta, N.Y., was shuttered in 2010 when the costs of keeping it open increased beyond the means to keep it open.

The HofF ceremonies will be held at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle. Before you say, “Wha?”, know that Keller grew up in the area and finished his playing career as a Sounder coached by Schmid, who has led the club since it joined MLS in 2009. (On the other hand, how many Dallas fans know that Myernick started his pro career in that city, with the NASL Tornado?

MLS commissioner Don Garber and president Mark Abbott were among those in attendance at the Open Cup final. Initially nettled in 2008 when the expanded Concacaf Champions League usurped the SuperLiga series between MLS and Liga MX teams that was eventually discontinued, Garber has in the past few years staunchly advocated the importance of MLS teams succeeding in CCL play.

Since MLS teams dominate the later stages of the Open Cup, and the winner earns an automatic berth in the CCL group phase, it would make sense for the close relationship between the league and U.S. Soccer be extended to promote and showcase the knockout competition.

One of the tournament’s drawbacks is a lack of television coverage. Yes, the rounds leading up to the final are shown on ussoccer.com and You Tube, which is the provenance of backyard birthday parties and 30-year MTV clips along with sporting events. This year’s final received the first-class treatment of ESPN2 and Univision Deportes, but from 2012 to 2014 the only coverage was provided by GolTV, which has been knocked off numerous cable systems by Fox Sports and is impossible to view in many markets. So that’s a measure of real progress.

I’m not convinced Dallas is the best venue to stage the Open Cup final every year, and it would be a risk to change the format and hope that thousands of locals would buy tickets to see two teams they don’t follow. But that’s the point as well; this would be about the game in America, not just one game.

The Hall of Fame won’t be open for a few years, which gives all the relevant parties time to ponder their options and consider how the marketplace and community would support a block of U.S. Soccer events anchored by its two most visible components. There’s plenty of time for sponsors to be wooed and experts to be consulted. And didn’t Mia Hamm used to live in Dallas? Invite her, too.

11 comments about "Does the Open Cup final need a home, too?".
  1. Nate Nelson, September 30, 2015 at 10:43 p.m.

    PLEASE..MLS controls soccer in America mot the USSF. You state "it would make sense for the close relationship between the league and U.S. Soccer be extended to promote" its the tail wagging the dog...MLS saids Jump amd the USSF says how high !!!

  2. John Soares, September 30, 2015 at 10:52 p.m.

    I think for the "foreseeable" future having one of the finalists host is best as far as attendance. Once the game is popular enough to assure a sellout have it in various locations and give all or at least more fans the opportunity to attend. However location should be announced at least one year ahead.

  3. Margaret Manning replied, September 30, 2015 at 11:01 p.m.

    First, the final needs to be in one of the participating teams' stadiums. That passion you heard tonight (or the seismically-recorded crowd for the Sounders' third cup win) will just disappear in a neutral stadium.

    As for Frisco, I'm still recovering from the MLS Cup in Frisco back in, what, 2005? It took two hours to get out of there.

  4. Margaret Manning replied, September 30, 2015 at 11:04 p.m.

    The Union had a sellout tonight and the Sounders produced 30-40,000 fans for their home USOC games. I think the game is popular enough to fill any team's home stadium for the USOC final.

  5. Andrea Hana replied, October 1, 2015 at 10:51 p.m.

    "...for the second straight year, the game didn’t sell out." These events need to be held at a field of one of the finalists or, they could just hold them every year in Seattle. We'll fill it!

  6. Ridge Mahoney, September 30, 2015 at 11:34 p.m.

    attendance: 14,463, less than 2014.

  7. Dave Kantor, October 1, 2015 at 9:45 a.m.

    MLS came to their senses about hosting MLS Cup at a neutral site, after several finals had copious empty seats and lacked atmosphere. Hosting the US Open Cup at a neutral site would be even worse, as the interest in that tournament is far, far less then the MLS Cup. Outside of the relative small group of hard-core fans that are willing to travel for such a game, a neutral-site Open Cup final would be an attendance nightmare, reinforcing the anti-soccer community's assertion that no one really cares about the sport when a nationally televised Cup final displays acres of empty seats. Memo to US Soccer: Please ignore Ridge's suggestion and continue hosting the final at a finalist's home stadium.

  8. Santiago 1314 replied, October 1, 2015 at 11:03 a.m.

    I like Ridge's Idea... Think of NFL Hall of Fame Game and Inductions Week...Not time yet, but some day. ..Maybe move the date to tie in with some sort of Coaches Convention or Youth Recruiting Tournament or Dallas Cup...Just some thoughts for down the road...For now: One team has to host...How was it that Philly was Home and not KC???

  9. Santiago 1314, October 1, 2015 at 11:04 a.m.

    Congrats To Peter Vermes...Next US National Team Coach... Another Title... Soon Please!!!

  10. John Soares, October 1, 2015 at 1 p.m.

    The Open Cup final is not a "friendly" or a pre-season game to be treated as second fiddle to a coaches convention. It is a national competition that hopefully, some day "SOON" will have the full support of teams, fans and MLS itself. Currently it's treated as an after thought. As a national competition/trophy it (and the teams involved) deserves the attention and respect for what it is.... Second only to the MLS Cup final.

  11. Santiago 1314 replied, October 1, 2015 at 2:25 p.m.

    John, it's 2nd, 3rd or even 4th fiddle now...You really think anyone is going to show up at a Neutral Site.???... Not going to Happen, even MLS figured that out... Having a "Captive" Audience. .ie..Coaches or Players and Hall of Famers would give USOC some Built-In "Butts-in-the-Seats"...Once it Gets Big Enough...Right now, Play at Home Field of One of the Teams.

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