The soccer news starts with a familiar scenario for the US Open Cup, an all-MLS semifinal round. Orlando City plays Atlanta on Tuesday and Minnesota hosts Houston on Wednesday to decide the finalists for the 2019 US Open Cup. It's another edition where the Concacaf Champions League spot that goes to the Open Cup winner is an extra guaranteed spot for Major League Soccer.
2008 was the last time a non-MLS team made the final, and it's hard to consider any MLS club an underdog when it comes to the Open Cup. That's due to the relative levels of seriousness for how MLS teams choose to treat the tournament. It wasn't that long ago that MLS teams could opt out entirely. It's worth considering how many teams would take that option if it was still allowed. It's also worth the reminder that the bright lights of the original North American Soccer League don't appear in the Open Cup winners list in the 70s and early 80s. The NASL opted out entirely, meaning that they also didn't send teams to the Concacaf Champions Cup the predecessor to the Champions League.
That wouldn't be the scenario for MLS if they left the US Open Cup to the lower divisions and amateur leagues. They'd still have three spots for US-based teams based on league finish. Canadian MLS clubs only qualify through winning the Canadian Championship regardless of league place. That's one extreme with full participation the other. Open Cup organizers may point to the need for MLS involvement to raise the profile of the competition, but we've seen multiple efforts to do that leave the tournament in a familiar situation. It's important to MLS teams when the trophy is in reach. Otherwise, it's another chance to provide squad players with valuable game experience. That's the polite way of referring to backups normally at a backup stadium.
MLS hasn't helped the perception issue by reviving their own tournament with Liga MX and dropping it into the already crowded schedule. Though Liga MX teams went full strength for the new Leagues Cup, MLS didn't and with the expected results. The one MLS team that advanced only did enough to prove that running the reserves could work. That's a message already sent and received over multiple US Open Cups.
How MLS addresses their schedule is a growing concern across the league. Compacting the regular season and going to single-game playoffs has pushed clubs and coaches further towards a "league first" mentality. That already existed, showing up in everything from the Open Cup to friendlies clubs schedule during the summer. It's a banner time for reserves to get that valuable experience playing for the first team in games the organization doesn't rate as highly as a Wednesday in Commerce City with points on the line. That certainly flatters MLS, but it's probably not all that impressive for the fans paying to be at those lesser tier games.
That's also the same old US Open Cup question, trying to assure that the tournament matters when MLS teams act otherwise. The attempts at answers aren't any more convincing now than they were then.
Also in the soccer news, Derby County announced that DC United striker Wayne Rooney will join the Championship club in January as player/coach. Rooney will finish the 2019 MLS season with DC.
"After speaking to Wayne and understanding his difficult situation of being so far away from his family, we have accepted that this is the best decision for all parties," DC United investor/operators Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien said in a press statement. "Wayne is an exceptional leader and one of the most iconic players to play the game, so we look forward to his continued contributions to the team this season."
ESPN's Tom Marshall rounds up the Liga MX stories. Yahoo Sports' Doug McIntyre considers the expectations for Christian Pulisic at Chelsea. Football365's Daniel Storey explains the situation at Manchester United with the club once again trying to reassert itself in the Premier League. The Independent's Miguel Delaney's look at the issues with how ownership works in the Premier League. SB Nation's John Dillon on what the Bundesliga is doing to grow outside of Germany.
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