Wouldn’t a smaller venue like Omaha’s Morrison Stadium make a better Open Cup venue than a fractionally-full MLS stadium?
I’m on the record in saying that the Open Cup is, on the whole, a tremendous waste of time for MLS clubs. Yeah, I said it.
It’s an anachronism and as much as I do appreciate history, I am not sure that MLS clubs, with crowded calendars, and hamstrung rostrers, care about participating that much in a tournament that requires 4-5 minutes of explanation in order to even begin to market it to anyone outside the soccer community.
Yes, the diehards here on Bigsoccer love it. That’s true. But diehard fans aren’t enough to keep the Open Cup interesting or relevant.
One of the very few downsides to all the new soccer-specific stadiums has been the decline in Open Cup “barnstorming” where MLS teams would take their home Open Cup matches to smaller non-MLS markets instead of playing at home in front of sparse audiences.
I think this “barnstorming” could prove as a way at least make the Open Cup relevant as a way for the clubs and the league to get new fans.
Is it really a net + for clubs to play Open Cup matches and especially qualifiers in venues like Red Bull Arena and RFK in front of barely thousands of people? I don’t think it is. If the Cup is worth valuing, why not play its matches in venues that make it feel like it’s an event? That’s why these early round cup matches should be elsewhere, outside MLS cities and stadiums.
Look at the Philadelphia Union-Red Bulls match last night. According to Jon Tannenwald at Philly.com, there were far fewer than even the announced 3,000 last night at RBA. Instead of having 3,000 rattling around Harrison, why not draw 3,000 fans at 5,000 seat Yurcak Field at Rutgers or at the Roberts Stadium at Princeton, which has been deemed good enough to serve as the USMNT’s base before the World Cup? For DC’s match against Dallas, why not play in Richmond, where DC has played Open Cup matches in the past. Or, more creatively, why not head to Morgantown, where West Virginia has a nice five-year old soccer facility and a soccer community there that I bet would love to see a pro soccer match there. Plus, United’s Devon McTavish played at WVU.
Just of the top of my head, here are some non MLS and non-D2 cities and venues that might serve as good homes for Open Cup matches.
- Omaha – Take the Wizards or Fire out to Creighton’s beautiful Morrison Stadium.
- Louisville – Why not have the Crew host an Open Cup match at the newly renovated Cardinal Soccer Complex at the University of Louisville?
- Spokane – Have the Sounders cross the Cascades and play at Gonzaga’s newly renovated facility.
- Albuquerque – Bring Chivas or Dallas to play on UNM’s home field, which has proven a great college atmosphere in the past.
- College Station/Waco/etc. – There are tons of amazing college facilities all across Texas including A&M’s soccer facility which has hosted the women’s college cup recently.
I’m sure I missed another dozen or so good venues out there that would appreciate an Open Cup match.
Of course, there are going to be some who say that taking these matches on the road somehow devalues them. To that I say, how does taking the sport to potential new fans and new markets devalue a match or a tournament more than playing it in a venue that is only 15 percent full?
Right now the Open Cup is pointless but for providing USL teams a rare moment of glory and for allowing England-aping American fans to pretend they’re watching Hereford beat Newcastle.
At least playing these matches in new markets gives the tournament a gimmick or a hook – something that makes it special for another reason other than just being part of something old.
To those hardcore fans upset at thought of seeing these matches moved further away from you, I beg you to think a little bit more long term. Doesn’t it make better sense for clubs to use these matches to develop new fans rather than provide 3-4,000 existing diehard fans with a couple extra gamedays?
Otherwise, seriously, tell me why the Open Cup is anything more than a distraction… fine, a historic distraction from an increasingly important MLS regular season and CONCACAF’s expanded Champions League.