18 August 2006

Thoughts on Improving the US Open Cup

The US Open Cup (USOC) is upon us once again, with the quarterfinal match against Red Bull New York next Wednesday at RFK. The game is Special Event B for everyone who has season tickets. However, I am not here to talk about that game yet, instead this is my submission for the Carnival of American Soccer IV. The topic of discussion for this carnival is what to do about the US Open Cup, hopefully I will provide some ideas below for people to think about and discuss in the comments. I tried to stick to some of the smaller stuff that the USSF can and should implement unilaterally and immediately.

US Open Cup 101

So what exactly is the US Open Cup you ask? Here is a short summary.

The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is an American soccer competition open to all United States Soccer Federation affiliated teams, from amateur adult club teams all the way to the professional teams of Major League Soccer. It was first held in 1914 and is the oldest annual team tournament in U.S. sports. However, it has never gained the reputation that it should have as one of the main trophies in U.S. Soccer. Hopefully some of the ideas from this little carnival can push the USOC in the right direction.

Web Design 101

Here is the English FA website. Here is the Spanish FA website. Here is the German FA website. Can you tell me something they all have in common? Hmm, what could that be? Oh, an easy to read link in their toolbar to their National Cup that is always on the front page. What a novel idea! Here is the USSF website. Can you find the link to the Open Cup? If you are lucky you see it above the Studio 90, but it is not always there, and definitely wasn’t there earlier this summer. When it isn’t there, you have use the toolbar to hit Teams & Events --> Other Programs --> Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Other programs! Apparently US Soccer equates the US Open Cup with Futsal, no wonder the tournament has floundered and doesn’t get any of the recognition it deserves.

Here is another novel idea. Write something about the damn thing once and while. US Soccer has written 54 articles in 4 years about the USOC, which is about 13 articles a year on the most important trophy that they award. Admittedly they are getting better, 22 of those 54 articles were written this year alone. But something else should strike you about the 54 articles in 4 years, possibly the fact that the USOC is 92 years old, not 4 years old. Oh, and a dedicated link to explaining the USOC and how it works (including amateur qualifying) isn’t completely out of line is it?

MLS does not escape my wrath on this one either. I can understand their reluctance to actively support the US Open Cup when it isn’t their job and somebody else could win it. But a little help online would go a long way. Putting the USOC dates into their schedules well in advance would help. The new matchtrakers and links they have been putting up on USOC days have been very helpful, before only some of the individual team pages had these. However, archiving these matches and putting all of the USOC match reports in one convenient place would be very helpful.

Fortunately MLS has just the place for this in their competition section. But first you have to switch from national competition to club competitions, and then have to scroll past the CONCACAF Champions Cup, they should be able to update this regularly so the most timely piece is on the top and in front. Once you do that however, guess what the headline is for the USOC. You got it; Herculez's strength lifts Galaxy to victory, about the LA Galaxy winning the 2005 US Open Cup. Apparently even though every MLS team has now played at least one game and only MLS teams are left, the 2006 US Open Cup hasn’t started yet.

A little more information on the Internet couldn’t hurt and would really help out those of us interested in the US Open Cup. Not to mention it might get a few more people thinking about it if you point to it more often. Oh, and MLS, USOpenCup.com is a fan run site, not the official US Open Cup site.

Publishing 101

Every weekend MLS gives out a periodical entitled “Freekick” to all of the fans who walk through the turnstiles to watch an MLS match. Basically it is a free program, but they save money by making it more general and not game specific. It comes out every once in a while, and is usually a little out of date. If I had to guess I would say they roll out a new one every month or so. Some of the articles are obviously for all of MLS while others are geared towards the individual teams, it usually has a roster of the home team.

US Soccer could do something like this for each USOC round. But something up to date isn’t even necessary. What is really needed is an explanation of the USOC and how it works as a tournament, a history of the USOC to help show that soccer has been in America a lot longer than people think, and a player or team profile from one of the lower divisions to give it the feel good story that these tournaments are supposed to have.

This is crucial because so many soccer moms and dads go to these matches without even knowing what they are. Last time at the Soccerplex casual fans didn’t even know what was going on, some thought it was just an exhibition, some thought it was a league game, some thought that you always had shootouts in MLS, most were confused at the overtime. And this was the case in DC, one of the best fan bases in American soccer today. A small preview or pamphlet is needed and should be provided by US Soccer for every USOC game. Though on a DC note, I would like to see DCU step up and provide a cheaper substitute for its fans if US Soccer refuses to do anything.

If US Soccer wanted to go above and beyond and updated it every round with match reports and results that would be fabulous. They could just use the reports they wrote for there website and put them into traditional media. Then tell fans in the handout to check out the website for updated results and more information. Something like this could really help get the word out about the USOC and help it start to gain a foothold in the minds of the average US soccer fan.

Bracketology 101

First of all, whatever is decided for the USOC brackets, please make it available for the average fan. Right now it is the first article in this years’ Open Cup material on the US Soccer website, but it should be separate and outside of the articles along with the USOC history. And please explain not just the regular Open Cup but also the qualifying rounds for USASA. I spent about 2 hours trying to figure those things out and have a pretty good idea, but not a complete grasp, mostly because I have no idea where to look for the info once you get past the USASA Regional tournament and into the individual leagues.

When I started to write this post, I thought I was going to come up with some comprehensive qualification and bracket that could be used for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, that is basically impossible because soccer is growing in America. We have no idea how many teams MLS will have in the future, or USL 1 and 2 for that matter. A comprehensive tournament bracket that has exemption into the tournament (as is now the case) can’t happen unless we are willing cap MLS teams at some point. A huge 128-team bracket is not really feasible because of a lack of control over teams’ fields as Daniel Feuerstein points out in this article. Check out parts one and two as well. Not to mention that I worry about not letting some teams compete as much (it would put amateur teams up against MLS teams from the beginning).

There are some improvements that can be made though. First and foremost I would like to see more amateur teams playing in the USOC proper. Currently 8 teams from the USASA and 8 teams from the PDL, you could easily double both of these numbers without significant changes to the later stages of the tournament. This would give more teams a chance, and eventually get more amateur teams thinking about entering qualifying because of a better chance of making it.

Plus the stories that the USSF must hype are the David v. Goliath battles that these teams face. Dallas Roma’s great run this year is just the latest example. Not to mention that a lot of the past winners of the USOC are still around. If there were 16 teams in this year’s USOC, Philadelphia’s Ukrainian Nationals would have been in the tournament. This is the same team that won the tournament four times (60’, 61’, 63’, 66’), which is second only to the greats; Bethlehem Steel, Fall River F.C., and Maccabee S.C.. How about that for a story?

Another change that should be made is non-geographical alignment after MLS’ first game (or basically at this point in the 2006 USOC). Geographical alignment is needed to cut down on the costs associated with travel at a time when most teams are on the financial edge. However, the problem is unless there are multiple upsets (which will be less likely as MLS teams take the USOC more seriously), the USOC looks a lot like the MLS post-season playoffs. Right now the East bracket is exactly the same as the MLS Eastern Conference playoffs if the season ended today. The West isn’t much better as the only change in teams is the Galaxy in for Chivas and them playing Colorado instead of Dallas. Other than that, it is the post-season playoffs.

Not only that, but conference teams already play each other four times a year, with the USOC and a first round playoff that number jumps to seven. That is a large number of times to play one team in a season, and most likely degrades the importance of the matches. USSF should spice things up a little bit and have a random drawing at this point, some will be close some will be farther away, but it will add some excitement to the tournament.

Whiskey 101

Bring back the Dewar’s Trophy. That’s right, Dewar’s.

The Dewar Trophy is the oldest trophy in United States team sports. Sir Thomas R. Dewar, a British distiller, donated it to the American Amateur Football Association in 1912. As explained by the US Soccer Hall of Fame:

The cup was first awarded to the Yonkers Football Club (NY) in 1912 after they defeated the Hollywood Inn Football Club (NY) at the Lennox Oval in New York City. The trophy was officially adopted as the U.S. Open Cup trophy prior to the Brooklyn Field Club's inaugural championship in 1914 in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

The Stanley Cup is older, but couldn’t be won by a US team until 1914. But, everybody knows about the Stanley Cup, few know about the Dewar’s Trophy. More from the US Soccer Hall of Fame site shows why:

The trophy was retired in 1979, but was refurbished by the USASA in 1997 and was presented to the 1997 and 1998 Open Cup winners, before permanently retiring to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, New York.

The one thing that the USOC has going for it is history. Why USSF decided to retire the trophy I have know idea. They renamed the US Open Cup the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, and got rid of the Dewar’s Trophy. I suggest bringing it back, keep Lamar’s name on the title, just make the trophy presented the Dewar’s Trophy.


At 18 August, 2006 22:27, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd love for them to bring back the old trophy. The new one looks like a candy bowl.

At 18 August, 2006 22:32, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At least that's what the Crew got when they won it.


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