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.