Value of Open Cup depends on perspective

By Ridge Mahoney

Though the end is valuable in itself, the means of the U.S. Open Cup continues to vary wildly for its MLS participants.

It strikes me as ironic that U.S. Soccer has banned the USL teams run by MLS clubs, such as Red Bulls II and their ilk from the Galaxy, Timbers, Sounders, etc., from the Open Cup. For its Open Cup match Tuesday with bitter rival Portland, the Sounders signed nine – nine! – Sounders 2 players to short-term contracts. It is permitted to do this four times a season to supplement its squad for any games beyond the league schedule, which include friendlies but also competitive obligations such as the Open Cup.

Seattle and Portland both sent out teams of mostly backups for a fourth-round match and the Sounders prevailed, 2-1. Eliminating the USL teams run by MLS teams streamlines the competition and also prevents the problem of such USL teams fielding weakened rosters so as not to cup-tie players the main club might need later in the competition.
MLS teams regularly send out squads laden with backups when they enter the competition in the fourth round and tend to field stronger selections as they progress. The carrot at the end is a tasty one – the Open Cup winner lands a spot in the Concacaf Champion League, which ironically is yet another competition for which a team can sign players from its reserve team if it wishes.

There were several derby matches in the mix, which are inevitable since the early rounds are arranged geographically, and in the biggest such match -- at least on paper -- the Red Bulls beat New York City FC, 1-0.
Most of the games matched teams from different divisions and though the MLS teams for the most part held serve, Columbus fell to FC Cincinnati of the USL, 1-0, and in another MLS-USL matchup, Colorado needed to rally from two goals down to beat OKC Energy, 3-2. Yet struggling Real Salt Lake played the kids against Sacramento and paid the price, 4-1.

For the expansion San Francisco Deltas of the NASL, a trip to gleaming Avaya Stadium to play the Earthquakes turned out to be a derby too tough. San Jose scored twice in the first six minutes against the jittery Deltas and though the teams battled more or less evenly the rest of the way, the visitors fell, 2-0.

San Jose rested a few regulars, which it must do in any case due to restrictions on foreign players for Open Cup matches. A game-day squad of 18 players can include no more than five players classified as internationals, and this affected the Deltas as well. Their starting goalkeeper, French native Romuald Peiser, was one of the players excluded by head coach Marc Dos Santos, who -- like his San Jose counterpart Dominic Kinnear -- also had to look ahead to a league match on the weekend.

“Unfortunately we came in a little too anxious and you’re sleeping on two plays and you’re down, 2-0,” said Dos Santos of the Deltas, which had beaten a PDL team (Burlingame Dragons) and USL foe (Phoenix Rising) to reach the fourth round. “In their stadium its not the dream start that you wanted but the other 80 minutes we were never inferior, we created a lot of opportunities. Their goalkeeper [Andrew] Tarbell was good. Overall, being an expansion team and playing a game like that it’s a huge learning moment for us.”

San Francisco, which played in Puerto Rico last weekend, hosts Edmonton Saturday. The Quakes welcome Sporting Kansas City to Avaya Stadium that same evening. Despite expanded rosters and bigger salary caps, many MLS teams still struggle to field quality squads when assigned midweek league matches as well as weekend assignments. In the pecking order of priority, at least until the later rounds arrive, the Open Cup is well behind a league game.

While fans pine for an Open Cup that is truly open in the sense that MLS teams regard it as important as do their NASL and USL counterparts, the reality is more realistic. MLS teams use the games to build depth and test inexperienced players, and while losing to a team from a lesser division can be an embarrassment, such a defeat isn’t likely to get a coach fired or cause attendances to plummet.

But a lesser team beating an MLS team can be a big deal, especially on the road, as did Miami FC in Orlando by a score of 3-1. “For us it’s amazing,” said Miami FC head coach Alessandro Nesta, perhaps extra motivated to face his former AC Milan teammate Kaka. “It was the most important game in Miami FC’s short history.”

Orlando City’s rabid fan support isn’t likely to dim in the wake of a home loss to a team regarded as inferior. But Miami FC can certainly use the victory as a stepping stone to credibility, deserved or not, and its coaches and players can take credit for a game well won.

For the time being, the Open Cup is what teams need it to be, and that perspective is what drives how they prepare and regard a competition with more than a century of tradition.
7 comments about "Value of Open Cup depends on perspective".
  1. Ric Fonseca, June 15, 2017 at 4:18 p.m.

    RM: While you raise some very good points, I fail to see the logic of your railing about the Open Cup's failings, failings that go back just a tad bit more than 50 years ago! So my question to you, mi amigo, why do so so many years into the historical/actual processes? I do believe, pilgrims, that it is because now there is a vehicle, i.e. SA with which to do so and thus a greater audience and because there are more recognized and registered futboleros? The question does begs, how to change the process of that which is the "Open Cup" in such a vast geographic ocean that is the US? Meantime, let's just settle and say 'PLAY ON!!!"

  2. Jose Melero, June 15, 2017 at 5:10 p.m.

    I took a minute to google "great FA cup upsets", and found interesting results, not unlike the Open Cup . I would assume the FA Cup has similar failings, especially as the bigger clubs rest their stars, etc. For any player, the spirit of the competition gets the adrenaline flowing. For the players, no matter how small their club is, the game doesn't discriminate; the players may be bigger, faster, more skilled and they might sell more jerseys, but the match is still played and a winner rises to the occasion! I agree with Ric Fonseca, "PLAY ON!".

  3. Ben Myers, June 15, 2017 at 5:24 p.m.

    Worse yet, general publicity of US Open Cup matches by MLS teams is pathetic, if there is any at all.

  4. Ric Fonseca replied, June 17, 2017 at 2:59 p.m.

    Ben, if there is a source upon which to blame, I'd say is the regular media, print, radio, tv, and now social media. I remember when the WC was played in Argentina and I was refereeing a youth game, we could hardly hear the play by play from someone's radio that had wide band (?) capabilities, and then I also remember the time we went to the former LA Sports Arena (now the site for the LAFC Stadium) to see Mexico play Germany (when Leo Cuellar get literaly clobbered full front on an attempted header and knocked out of the game) and there was hardly any, I mean ANY LA Times or other print source, except for the spanish language La Opinion, this in the '70s. Coverage for the LA Aztecs was given maybe 10 or 12 column inches in the times only if they played say NBY Cosmos, or America came to play in the vastness of the Coliseum (which someone, I believe it was an American sports-beat writer say that going to see a soccer game at that venerable site was akin to seeing a bunch of peas running around in an empty cauldron, and even worse if a game was played at the Rose Bowl. And just what are the SA subscription numbers? Here's another historical tidbit: In 1978 I attended my first NSCAA convention in Philadelphia, and I remember this one because the convention was held in the very same hotel where the now historically infamous "Legionnaire's Disease" broke out some time prior. The convention did get some coverage, not so much because it was the NSCAA Convention, but because of the prior notoriety - it was not a very large in terms of numbers, but memorable enough, and I am sure that SA also covered it. As for the gist of the article and the Open Cup, my first introduction to it was when I was a grad student in the early '70s and thereafter; then it was a pretty big thing in LA, playing at Daniels Field in San Pedro, or the field on Rodeo in LA (part of LA Parks and Rec), dealing with the venerable Tony Morejon, Chuck Bowerman, Toros Kibritjian, Heinz Wolmerath, et. a. It was an event to look forward to..... but all be it, piss poor media coverage, so as I said before, PLAY ON!!!

  5. Nick Daverese, June 18, 2017 at 8:06 a.m.

    Problem new people don't know or respect the history of the open cup. So some think it stupid and is a waste of time. I happen to think playoffs are stupid and are a waste of time. I think who ever wins a division with the best record should be the champion. Playoff are for owners to make more money.

    I also think changing your uniform is stupid just to get people to buy a new uniform. I also think counting secondary assists is stupid. A pass that leads to another pass and counts as an assist is stupid.

    I think counting a pk goal as a goal is stupid. Your supposed to make them.

  6. Craig Cummings, June 18, 2017 at 1:37 p.m.

    Toros and Heinz are still around assessing. I refd with Heinz 2 weeks ago in a German tournament.

  7. R2 Dad, June 20, 2017 at 12:50 a.m.

    So it seems MLS lobbied to axe the USL affiliates from the competition in order to preserve those USL bodies as backfill for these early round matches. This is the same mentality that enables big amateur clubs to play up their skilled youngers or lower-level players to overwhelm smaller clubs in league play and tournaments. How many times have you seen a skilled hispanic team with no bench (or short a player or two) losing out to a big club team with a full bench? I guess I shouldn't be surprised--Sunil has no spine when it comes to Garber.

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