If you asked me or anyone else at the beginning of the week, we would be pretty sure of two things at week's end: the Colorado Rapids will win over Orlando City FC, and El Chelis will still have a job. It turns out that neither of those things are true, and they aren't true in probably the most spectacular fashion possible.
I don't mean "spectacular" in that sense of "cool" or "awesome" or even "halfway neat". It was a spectacle in the sense that it was "something to see." How did things go so terribly wrong for the Rapids? How did things go so badly for MLS and how terrible must it feel to be a fan of Chivas USA? Let alone to be working at that club.
FC Dallas' writer for Big D Soccer, Alfredo Cuvi, had a long article about this very topic. And there's very little to add to his points, but it just got worse today. As if the accusations of discrimination against the organization by two of the Academy coaches isn't enough, Chivas USA let go their "top draw", (and Burgundy Wave favorite) El Chelis.
In other news, both the LA Galaxy and the Seattle Sounders, whose coaches both scoffed at the idea of taking the Open Cup seriously unsurprisingly got dumped out of the Open Cup by lower division teams. After a week of news touting the expansion of the league into New York City FC territory, ill advised though that might be, Major League Soccer finds itself in the midst of a crazy week, though not the good kind of crazy.
The Colorado Rapids against Orlando City FC, a club with designs on getting into MLS someday (though now this dream has been relegated to "far future" as MLS isn't even going to think about expansion until NYCFC takes off, oh and David Beckham, can't forget to get to him too), seemed to be a done deal. Everyone here at Burgundy Wave made optimistic predictions. Sure. We can handle a 3rd Division USL-Pro side. There wasn't even really a question about it.
Then we saw the team sheet. And even when we saw that Steward Ceus was in goal, otherwise the lineup looked pretty solid. And heck, maybe Stew had improved since his howler in Dallas. Good enough to start for Pareja, good enough to start for us. Looking back on it now, it's hard to imagine how things could have gone worse for the player personally, or for the fans watching the 2013 Rapids turn in the most abysmal performance of their year. The problems were not limited to Ceus, who had arguably the worst game a keeper could have. The problems were up front as well with a consistently misfiring or just plain not-there Tony Cascio. Both players, Ceus and Cascio, have a severe lack of confidence, and the Rapids paid for it at both ends. Ceus with his over-commitment blunders costing easy goals and later on a red card; Cascio's timidity could not force the issue with Orlando's defense.
When Kamani Hill looks like the most aggressive player out there, there has to be a problem.
Seattle and Los Angeles got hosed as well. It's not that many of the premier clubs in MLS got beat, let's face it--that happens, but that they got beat in such a fashion that it makes you question things. Granted, some clubs took full advantage of their opportunity and got the results they needed, but overall, this was a disappointing night for MLS in the Open Cup. This all seems like it should be against the script, but it happens with some regularity. There were upsets last year as well. It would seem that the script were written for upsets. Why is that?
Oh, and Chelis got fired. That happened too.
So what do we do, Rapids fans? As far as the Rapids go, the immediate question is easy to answer: like all sporting clubs, you dust yourself off and get on to the next one. Focus on Dallas and put this one behind us. Another year, another unceremonious dumping out of Open Cup.
As far as the more existential questions go: Do we really care about the Open Cup? (Ed note: You already know my answer!) Oscar Pareja seemed to care, in fact, he was one of the few managers who spoke out and said he wanted to represent the club well in the Open Cup. I suppose the thing that's hard for us to swallow in this case is that if Pareja and the Rapids really did put their all into this competition, how did we get drubbed so badly? That's the thing that's going to haunt us. Not that a manager over-stated his case for the Cup (maybe he didn't care all that much) but that he did, and they all did, and yet we got absolutely taken to the cleaners by a 3rd Division team.
At least Sounders and Galaxy fans can go home happy, right? Their clubs didn't care, so it makes sense that they lost. I find those questions to be even worse. Because they reaches further into questions about the Open Cup competition itself: if it's not worth it, what would make it worth it? Is it even something that should be kept alive if teams just regard it as a hassle? And should there be a CCL spot attached to it if teams just seem to back into the competition, heads sunk and shoulders shrugged in a kind of "well, if we're here, might as well play a match"?
It's hard to see how the Open Cup could make itself more worthwhile money-wise. It's a quarter of a million dollar prize, which is the largest amount it's ever been worth. That's peanuts compared to other domestic tournament cup competitions, but here in the United States, it's comparable. For comparison, and I know this isn't quite fair, but the Open Cup pays peanuts compared to the payout for the FA Cup. In order to make the same amount of prize money for the full prize at the US Open Cup, one only need make it to the fifth round of the FA Cup. There's other factors involved, to be sure: the prestige of the trophies can't even be seen in the same universe.
But unlike the winning the FA Cup, the Open Cup gives you the chance to play in the Champion's League. So more painfully: is the chance at CONCACAF glory even that important to MLS clubs? You might recall that I wrote a while ago about MLS's complicated relationship with the CCL. And I relate that attitude to the Open Cup now: eh, if we're in it, might as well play. But that unstated premise should always echo loud and clear, both in MLS clubs' attitude towards the Open Cup, and MLS' attitude towards the CCL: Eh, we'll give it a go, but not where it interferes with the League.
And Chelis got fired. Chivas is getting sued. And that's after Chivas beat their first opponent in the Open Cup.
Perhaps the league should stand up and pay attention. Everyone has their dreams. Teams and Leagues alike. Some teams state that their intention is to win the Open Cup, or at least to take the tournament seriously. When they lose, it's hard. We look over all the mistakes that were made and we say "Let's do better next time, on to the next." Some leagues might state their intention is to win over the East LA market with a Latino-targeted club. They might have dreams of having a rivalry that shares the same stadium and packs it out each and every time a la AC and Inter Milan. But I think it's become clear by now to anyone who is paying attention that the Chivas USA experiment has failed and failed spectacularly.
The key here is whether or not MLS like the Rapids can recognize this as a failure, pick themselves up, learn the lesson and move on to the next.