Dear US Soccer,
How you doing? I imagine you’re doing pretty decent these days, with the Women’s National Team winning the World Cup last year, hosting the Copa America for its 100th birthday, MLS gaining fans everyday, and cities crawling over each other to get an MLS franchise. These are the good times. I figure this might be the right time to talk to you about the Open Cup.
Now, I know you don’t like talking much about it, but as a reminder, the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is the crazy grandfather of the American soccer landscape. At 102 years old, it predates the MLS, as well as the NFL, NBA and NHL. The single elimination tournament invites every mens team to compete, from the amateur pub teams, to the MLS champions. And much like that crazy grandfather, you tend to ignore it until you need money, then you love it. PDL teams against USL teams? Meh. MLS vs MLS? Sell those broadcast rights to the highest bidder!
Unless you follow closely, most American soccer fans don’t even know about the early rounds of the tournament. That’s a shame, since that is where most of the real drama lives. Exciting games that create Cinderella stories. Amateurs vs professionals. In state cross-league rivals that never meet under normal circumstances. Crazy things can happen when a team that doesn’t think it can compete with higher levels are given the chance, and how higher level teams react to being challenged by lower level teams. Whether its Boulder’s Harpos FC defiantly challenging the USL’s Colorado Springs team, or Clint Dempsey losing his mind and ripping the referees scorebook in half, the real excitement lives in the lower rounds.
And that’s what bring me to you. Currently, the broadcast rules laid out by US Soccer for the Open Cup is basically, "You are free to do it, but you don’t have to.". That is an incredible mistake. Not only does the lack of any broadcasts deny fans the chance to follow their teams progress, but it hides the real drama and excitement. It sends the message that unless you are the top tier of the pyramid, we don’t care.
Now, Im not talking sending ESPN or Fox Sports out to a 500 seat stadium. Im talking bare-bones, streaming on YouTube broadcasts. In an age where I can broadcast anything live from my cellphone, it is nonsense to not have a basic requirement that a team broadcast its games from Round 1 forward. If cost is an issue (and I believe that’s the only reason why this is required) there are many creative solutions, from allocating funds to help teams cover the expense, to recruiting production teams from local colleges for valuable experience. Ad revenue can also help the local team fund a broadcast.
This week, we have many Open Cup matches that might never see the light of day to anyone besides those who attend. Oklahoma City has a battle between the USL team, Energy FC, and the NASL team, Rayo OKC. Two amateur LA teams, LA Wolves, and La Máquina will compete for a chance to face the LA Galaxy. My own team, the Colorado Springs Switchbacks travel to face Arizona United, a team the played 10 days prior in a game that was so heated, it ended with the league dispensing suspensions to 2 players for their conduct. Unfortunately, the only way me, or the growing fanbase, can see this game is if they travel to Arizona and see it in person. And that’s just inexcusable.
There is a feeling from US Soccer that American soccer only matters when it is played on the pristine fields and stadiums of the MLS. And that’s just wrong. American soccer lives and grows from the youth soccer complexes, to the high school fields, to the 3000 seat stadiums scattered across the country. It lives in the hearts of the 10 person supporter groups for PDL teams, and in the 7 year old watching a USL game in person for the first time, and deciding he wants to be a professional goalkeeper when he grows up. And we all deserve to see our team compete in the country’s oldest tournament.