How to find some redeeming value for MLS clubs playing in the US Open Cup


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.

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11 thoughts on “How to find some redeeming value for MLS clubs playing in the US Open Cup

  1. The correct solution is to take it the running of the USOC away from Soccer House somehow, but I’m not sure that this is remotely possible since they are the ones who founded the thing. If anyone knows how the income received for this tourney breaks down between the USSF and the MLS clubs, I would appreciate it.

    Also, 3k is about right (maybe a couple of hundred stayed home due to the frigid weather) if for no other reason
    then that this was a stand alone game run by the USSF and therefore, no chance or reason for RBNY to paper the numbers at all. Also the crowd approximated most of the Giants Stadium games from last year and parts of two years ago.

  2. Aaron, I like this idea from a “growing the game” perspective, but the problem is that it doesn’t address one of the biggest issues for MLS clubs in all this – travel. Right now MLS teams have the choice of overbidding to keep the matches at home (and losing money in the process) or forcing their tired, travel-weary rosters to take another plane ride.

  3. The Galaxy used to play U.S. Open Cup games at Titan Stadium on the campus of Cal State Fullerton, an inviting little venue I miss dearly.

    Will never forgot Alexi’s run up the hill after winning the thing in 2001.

  4. I knew this travel issue would come up. To me, if they’re going to have to travel for what is a frivolous, extraneous tournament, then let’s at least have them travel somewhere to sell the game. The Open Cup is a completely flawed concept in MLS as it is currently constructed and in the country the league is based. Any solution to a large extent will be putting powdered sugar on a turd. It’ll still be a turd in the end.

  5. Fire played an Open Cup game at Bradley University 2 years ago. They would have returned last year had they made it that far.

    The Fire have a history of doing this: North Central College (before the move there), Wheaton College.

    It’s a great outreach program. And I love the outreach to Central Illinois with the Bradley University game(s).

  6. I used to be a big fan of the U.S. Open Cup, on the grounds that it was perhaps the last surviving link to early years (although not the earliest ones) of American soccer. However, I’m no longer sure that that’s a good enough reason.

  7. I agree with you for the most part. Hosting the game at a smaller venue in town or even at the MLS team’s SSS seems kind of dumb. As a fan in a PDL city, I love when the bigger clubs come here. Anyone that plays my home team is the enemy.
    Best examples are 2005 & 2006 when the Menace faced the Wizards in the Open Cup. Both years we had to travel to KC to play at a crappy little stadium after we had hosted USL1 & 2 teams in previous rounds. Not coming to Des Moines was disrectful towards the Menace & DM soccer fans. To me, this makes the Wizards look like an organization that is not interested in gaining new fans from the region. Pretty much ensured that I will never travel to KC to support the Wizards.
    Side note, the Menace fans outnumbered the Wizards fans at both games. Taking into consideration how many could/would not travel on a weeknight, they probably would have done better in Des Moines…

  8. When you’ve got a home field and your home town fans to potentially give you the advantage, why not use them? If you’ve got an already built SSS, why pay rent elsewhere?

    I traveled up to a truly historic venue for an Open Cup play-in match several years ago (Negoesco in San Francisco) so I’m not blind to the appeal, but the home venue was costly-to-rent and no-revenues-shared Spartan Stadium, so in that case renting a smaller venue probably saved money. Lacking that benefit, avoiding the road costs is perfectly understandable.

  9. For the record, the USMNT will not be training at Roberts Field, but rather Princeton Stadium, where the throwball is played and which was built in the late ’90s. It seats 27,000. I’ve been to Roberts for a lacrosse game, and it’s pretty crappy. Rutgers would be a much better suggestion, plus it has grass.

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