[Quick Bio: My name is Logan Chugg. I am a native Utahn and RSL season ticket holder. I also write for Soapbox’s sister-site: Bavarian Football Works, which cover’s FC Bayern for SBNation. Check out BFW, or my Twitter (@LKChuggz) to see some of my Bayern articles.]
When the US Open Cup started this year, I was excited. All the games were on ESPN+ so I was in heaven for two nights each week during the first three rounds. Each match was exciting and captivating. I switched back and forth and back again between all of the live matches. There were scorching goals and extra-time games and thrilling rounds of penalty kicks and cupsets! As I watched, I was trying to predict which team Real Salt Lake would get to face, naively thinking that we could play someone that we don’t get to see twice a year. When the third-round finished, I was still full of hope and optimism.
That’s when the wheels began to fall off, for me.
A string of bad news after bad news came for RSL. First, was the fact that we drew not only another MLS team again, but the Western Conference leader, for the second year in a row. Then the dates are announced. Right in the middle of the week and right in the middle of an international window. Not only would we have to play a team that we have one win in four tries against, but we will have to do it without our core of players. Day after day, our stars get called up to represent their countries all over the world. Then, in a surprise to me at least, Jason Kreis calls even more players to the U23 team for a camp in Herriman. Lastly, it was announced on the matchday that our manager would miss the game for a mandatory course hosted by US Soccer. Why in the world would US Soccer put on a mandatory course for which coaches would have to miss their own tournament? So, not only were we not able to field our best-11, but we also had to play without our coach on the sideline.
As I watched all of this happen, thoughts began accumulating in my mind of how I would fix this tournament. I came up with some obvious (to me anyway) suggestions and some other things to shake it up a little bit more. The US Open Cup could be an amazing tournament if we just glean from what other countries do, in order to make it great.
Don’t play games during the international window after MLS teams join the competition
International players are generally the teams’ best players. Just because some players take callups for granted (Carlos Vela) doesn’t mean that other teams shouldn’t be allowed to put their best squad on the field.
Don't host coaching courses the same time as the Open Cup
This just seems self-explanatory.
Work with MLS, USL, and whatever other leagues you need to, in order to play these games on the weekends
This is something that England does really well. They have weekends periodically where the Premier League will take a break, but cup matches take their place at normal times on Saturdays.
Re-structure the tournament and/or invite more teams, so that when MLS teams get in, they are guaranteed to play a lower-league team
The German DFB-Pokal is setup like this. The top tier (Bundesliga) is put into one pot with the top half of the second tier (2. Bundesliga). The other pot consists of the rest of the 2. Bundesliga and then all of the qualifiers from the lower leagues. This sounds like it benefits the bigger clubs, but the Pokal has a history of Giant-killing. Also, this allows for the lower teams to come play in a big stadium, or to have a big team visit an area, which they probably never do
Start the tournament in the fall for the amateur teams, then bring the bigger clubs (MLS, USL-C) in in the spring, and end before international callups in the Summer
Just because our league seasons don’t match the European schedule, doesn’t mean that the Open Cup can’t follow that structure.
Allow for at least one amateur team from each state to fight for a spot in the preliminary rounds of the tournament
Again, something from the Pokal. After the automatic bids go to the top two leagues, the rest of the spots are filled mostly by the winners of each state’s cup. (I realize that this is definitely easier to do in a country with only 16 states, all of which have a deep-rooted history in soccer.)
I know that some of these are lofty goals, but they are some of the things that make cups so special in other countries. I also realize that our country isn’t quite ready for all of these suggested changes. However, I believe that we need something better, when it comes to the Open Cup. The tournament has the history that rivals even the DFB-Pokal and the FA Cup, but it loses its meaningfulness if we don’t treat it like the prestigious tournament that it is. Every team that plays should be able to field their best team and the stadiums should be full of excited fans.
What kind of changes would you like to see in the US Open Cup? Are there any other aspects that you would want to see borrowed from other cup-coemptions?