US Open Cup format change
On the heels of snubbing one existing tournament with a long heritage (the CONCACAF Champions Cup), the Powers That Be have apparently decided to snub another. Only 8 MLS clubs are going to be competing in this year’s US Open Cup.
The top six clubs from the 2006 season standings – D.C. United, FC Dallas, New England Revolution, Chicago Fire, Houston Dynamo and Chivas USA – will all automatically qualify for the tournament proper. The remaining MLS squads, excluding Canadian side Toronto FC, will take part in a qualifying tournament for the right to earn the final two MLS spots.
Now, the official reason being given for why they’re restricting the field is “to compensate for an extraordinarily busy fixture calendar this summer.” Given the fixture congestion, is there any doubt that the “qualifying tournament” to determine the last two teams is actually going to be league matches that just happen to also be qualifiers for the Open Cup? After all, if the complaint is that you’re playing too many games the solution is not to create a separate qualifying tournament.
I’ll give MLS props for one thing – at least they’ve chosen to reward competitive success in determining which 6 teams get automatic entry to the Open Cup. And as you read further into the press release, the 6 remaining US teams are being divided so that the 4 teams which didn’t make the playoffs are going to play in the “first qualifying round”, with the winners facing New York and Colorado in the “second qualifying round”.
Lest you think I’m just opposed to change on a knee-jerk level, let it be known that I don’t care a fig about the fact that the Open Cup games are going to be played on Tuesdays this year, rather than Wednesdays. I am hoping, though, that the change in days isn’t part of the “alleviate fixture congestion” strategy. 🙂
I know the Powers That Be are not stupid. The folks who made this decision didn’t get to make this decision because they’re idiots, or because they’re not serious about soccer. So I understand that there are reasons for decisions like this. I do seriously disagree with their reasons, however, particularly as one of the reasons for the fixture congestion – the SuperLiga – is a flimsy event to begin with.
On the plus side, another reason for the fixture congestion is probably the fact that the US is competing in this summer’s Copa America – which is a great development and should be supported by the soccer establishment. If this is really the only reason why the Open Cup change is necessary, then I’m saddened but am more willing to accept the shift as temporary.
I doubt that’s the only reason though. So instead of two legitimate tournaments getting incrementally more attention this year as our teams and leagues continue to treat them seriously, we instead devalue tournaments which offer unique opportunities to almost every aspect of the soccer ecosystem.