Ideas To Improve The US Open Cup

Ideas To Improve The US Open Cup

  • Posted by Drew Epperley
  • On January 20, 2011
  • US Open Cup

Time to ditch the MLS qualifying bracket in the US Open Cup.

I’ve had this thought bubbling for a while. How on earth can we improve the US Open Cup? I know I’ve mentioned it in the past and today seemed like a good day to bring it back up. With the changes that have gone on in US Soccer over the last year or so with the NASL-USL split and the ever growing MLS it seems like a perfect time to revamp the Cup.

I’ve always been interested and eager to see the US Open Cup have a format similar to the FA Cup in England. I think having the little guys like the PDL and USASA teams involved early on with the MLS, NASL and USL-Pro teams will make for a better competition. The FA Cup has a crazy qualification system but it works in my mind as it gets the smaller clubs involved early with the big boys.

So how exactly would the US Open Cup change? Right now the MLS qualifying rounds make no sense to me. Having only half of the league’s teams involved in the final bracket seems pointless really as it gives most MLS clubs a reason not to take this thing serious. By removing that qualifying round for MLS club and expanding out the bracket we’d see possibly more teams take the tournament serious like Seattle, D.C., and a few others have in the past.

My thought is to keep the PDL and USASA qualifications the same but reduce the number that get in from those two groups to 14 clubs (last year 17 qualified). Those teams will play in the first round bracket against USL-Pro and NASL clubs. Keeping it fairly local should reduce travel costs as well. The winners face a MLS side in the second round.

In other words the bracket would be broken down in four regions of 12 clubs. Four MLS sides would get buys into the second round and face winners of the other games. In all its a 48 team bracket (note this provides that the USL-Pro does get a team in San Antonio this year like its been rumored). Of course this will be tweaked with MLS expands further in the US with New York or even other cities but for arguments sake we’ll stick with the 48 team bracket (same goes for USL-Pro and NASL expanding as well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it).

You can still do mid-week games for these and keep it fairly local to reduce travel costs. You’d likely see better games throughout it as well. It may add an extra game or two for some who already have a busy schedule but seeing all MLS teams in the bracket will make it better in the long run.

The big question comes to when you’d play these rounds. I’d honestly love to see this tournament get finished up before the end of the summer. Of course there have been other ideas out there like doing this around the time that the MLS season wraps up or even having some of the qualifying rounds for non-playoff MLS teams happen during the playoffs.

Of course a lot has to change besides just overall format of the tournament for every MLS club to get serious about this tournament. Its possible with the upcoming roster expansion and reserve division coming back into the fold that we’ll see this tournament get truly competitive for MLS sides.

So what do you think of the US Open Cup going to a 48-team bracket? Think it would work? Would it be better off if all MLS clubs were involved in the bracket instead of going through a qualifying round like they do now? Let’s hear your take.

  • baumer

    I think it might help the tournament to have it conclude prior to the start of Champions league so if a CCL team is in the running they don’t have to choose which extra competition to compete in. I have heard the suggestion of holding the final on Labor Day which I think could be a nice annual event. So perhaps wrap up all of the tournament with the exception of the championship prior to the kickoff of CCL.

    I have mixed feelings about your idea of having MLS teams join the competition earlier. To me it just seems like you are effectively moving the play in rounds into the tournament and the end result is the same except that you have made it even more difficult for one of the minnows to make it through the competition. Last year a lot of these play in games were scheduled to occur the same week these teams met in league play which I think greatly undermined the competition. Teams would send out their “A” team for league play and the “B” team for the Cup. There isn’t a much stronger statement the teams could make about their opinion of the competition than that. It then becomes difficult for fans to get very serious about a competition that the “B” team is competing in. This creates a cycle of not caring. If by having the MLS teams join in the competition at an earlier stage whereby these teams are less likely to face off in Cup competition and league play simultaneously, then I think you do have an improved competition. If you ran with this, maybe MLS could schedule a league wide bye in conjunction with the first MLS round of the Open Cup when all teams would be active. A bye week would give teams the opportunity to take at least the first round seriously and get fans focused on the competition.

    Increased access to the competition is also key to increased relevance. At bare minimum MLS should do for the U.S. Open Cup what it did last year with the Super Liga and make all of these games available for online viewing. After last year’s problematic launch of its Match Day Live service, why not make all of these games available for free through that hq portal to show off its capabilities and maybe capture a larger subscription base. Seems like good timing when more and more people are getting their t.v. online. Or get Versus to pick it up as a trial run to see what they can do with the coverage. I think the investment to make this happen by USSF and MLS would be well worth it in the end.

    I think it would be a real mistake to have the competition coincide any where near the end of the MLS season. I think this would only draw out the awkwardness of the playoffs which I have kind of come to terms with as a mini tournament. The strongest teams in the league would be hard pressed to participate in both competitions and as it stands much more is riding on getting to and winning MLS Cup. If the best teams can’t take it seriously, then that definitely doesn’t help. Why make these two compete with each other?

    Adrian’s idea of having teams not making the playoffs do a play in tourney at the same time is interesting because (perhaps) it creates competition in the lower half of the table for ceding instead of only draft position. On the other hand, I think the American sports fan has a ways to go before they can truly embrace a multi-season time frame for a competition (i.e. last year’s team qualified for this year’s competition). Who knows, perhaps it could work the other way around and speed up the digestion of this concept by having appox. half of the teams involved one way or the other (Open Cup and CCL). It could also create a bit of anticipation for the tournament the following year which can’t hurt. I guess an added bonus could be that it would give MLS activity in local markets to continue to advertise MLS Cup much closer to the date of its actual play.

    • El Profe

      Having MLS teams join the US Open Cup does not necessarily reduce the chances of the “smaller” clubs progressing further in the competition. Each team will prioritize each game or competition differently. Idealistically, you wouldn’t have MLS teams face off each other until they have to.
      At the least, digital or online access to the US Open Cup is key. I liked that FSC aired the US Open Cup Final live. I would also like that they continued with that commitment and added at least the Semi-Finals to be aired live as well.
      Again going back to the issue of prioritizing competitions, I continue to like the idea that teams that win these types of competitions really show off the depth they have on their teams. Logically speaking, if the team with the best XI didn’t have to prioritize between competitions, they would win every competition they’re involved in. Having teams prioritize places importance on the notion of depth and forces teams to focus on the growth and development of the entire team/squad as a whole.

  • El Profe

    Idealistically, the US Open Cup would have a similar format to the FA Cup. However, it seems that financial reason are why the US Open Cup is small (in terms of number of teams qualifying per round) and regional competition.
    I agree that if there are changes to be made, the first should be that ALL MLS teams be directly involved in the US Open Cup rather than going through a qualification process. And for similar reason: placing more value on the US Open Cup by having more higher-level teams involved. Consequently, each team will have a different approach as well. But having all MLS teams directly involved will immediately give the US Open Cup more credibility and importance to the US soccer landscape.
    I can’t say that I’ve looked at number of teams qualifying per round but I agree that, in order to keep costs at a minimum, regional competition and limiting the number of teams that qualify for each round, in conjunction with ALL MLS teams directly participating, are small steps toward improving the US Open Cup. A side note that I would add is to always, when applicable, have the lesser-division or lower-level teams host the knock-out game (i.e. NASL/USL host MLS, PDL host NASL/USL, USASA host PDL, etc.).
    If the US Open Cup is to be run like the FA Cup, it should be run from March to October. That being said, it should begin with the lower divisions playing in March, and end BEFORE the MLS Playoffs begin. I don’t know the schedules for non-MLS leagues/divisions, but it may well be a viable idea to have the US Open Cup for the following season begin during the MLS playoffs.

  • James Westend

    If you want the MLS to take it serious, US Soccer needs to take it serious first. It dates back to 1914 and holds the name of one of the greatest sport entrepreneurs in history in Lamar Hunt. US Soccer needs to use SUM to work on sponsorships for the tournament, get certain matches televised regionally, and truly make it what it should be. What other competition can put an amateur team vs an MLS club? I think MLS clubs would take it a little more serious if there were people watching on tv and an upset would be news with highlights.