By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (June 29, 2011) US Soccer Players — After all, that’s what we get when seven of the eight teams in the US Open Cup quarterfinals are from Major League Soccer. Yes, we all knew this going in. The Open Cup format stacks the deck against the lower divisions in the Third Round, including the almost laughable indignity of forcing the bulk of the lower division clubs to try and win on the road. Shocked looks all around, but only one lower division team managed to get through.
The Richmond Kickers are now the vanguard for the lower divisions, beating Columbus in front of 1,845 fans at Crew Stadium to advance. Rochester was the only lower division team to actually host a game, losing to Chicago at Sahlen’s Stadium.
In practical terms, that leaves us with a top division Cup with Richmond as the surprise exception. Considering how seriously the bulk of Major League Soccer’s American clubs take the Open Cup, it might actually be surprising that another MLS team or two didn’t slip at the Third Round. Then again, even a reserve MLS squad should be competitive given the current state of the lower divisions.
With the United Soccer Leagues opting out of the battle to be known as the USA’s officially sanctioned second division, these aren’t teams that should be expected to be in the conversation on payroll. The gap between topflight and third division is supposed to be large. Since the US Soccer Federation sanctioned the new North American Soccer League as the official second division and then excluded them from the Open Cup, the tournament is missing a level.
Not that NASL involvement would’ve made much difference if the tournament still stacked the field in favor of the teams most likely to advance.
Even though the very mention of “US Open Cup” continues to carry with it an equally open invitation for criticism, the current model borders on the silly for MLS clubs and insulting for everyone else. It’s really two tournaments, one for the lower divisions that ends at the Second Round, and one for MLS that begins at the Third. Add in Major League Soccer’s convoluted qualifying mini-tournament, and there are even more games to stack the deck in favor of the topflight.
One might wonder why MLS needs so much protecting. After all, these are teams that should be able to play to their obvious advantages in lower division stadiums all across the country. Surely, they don’t really need this much help.
Among MLS fans, who wouldn’t want to see their MLS teams running a gauntlet of tough games against new opponents? It would certainly help breakup what’s become a tedious League schedule for a lot of teams, along with moving the Open Cup towards a more competitive model. As it stands, all the Open Cup really does is add more MLS games to the schedule. Three of four in the quarterfinals, likely both semifinals, and then the final. Add in the eight games from the MLS qualifying tournament, and that’s potentially 14 extra MLS games.
Now is that really what this tournament is supposed to be about?
USA – Mexico And The Ratings Game
Fox Soccer sent out a press release touting their record-setting Gold Cup final ratings, and fair enough. The USA – Mexico game drew 954,000 viewers on a network that’s part of an additional sports package on a lot of cable services. Those numbers were dwarfed by what the game drew on Univision, 7.9 million. Yes, 8.9 million Americans turned on the USA – Mexico game, and it’s worth pointing out that the number of people using the online Univision or CONCACAF feeds probably isn’t insignificant.
There’s an easy conclusion, and it’s the ridiculous drawing power of the Mexican National Team as compared to any other professional soccer property in the United States. At the same time, the marquee final CONCACAF planned on when they set the tournament field is the difference between an astounding number and what’s expected whenever Mexico plays for a trophy.
With an understrength Mexico about to contest the Copa America, we’re unlikely to get the direct comparison. That would be Mexico making the later rounds of South America’s championship and getting knockout games against the elite of that Confederation. One would assume a Mexico – Brazil or Mexico – Argentina with a trophy on the line would produce a staggering rating in the United States.
Copa America is another Univision property on broadcast television, but there’s a new twist. YouTube has live coverage of the Copa America.
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