The U.S. Open Cup is an awesome tournament. But that doesn’t mean it’s without flaws.
The equivalent of England’s FA Cup, the Open Cup is a wide open competition where professional teams at any level and any amateur teams associated with the U.S. Soccer Federation can win. You can have pub amateur teams like Christo FC go up against MLS giants like D.C. United.
But the main problem is that no one’s heard about it. Despite being one of the oldest competition in the U.S., the tournament has virtually no visibility in the American sports landscape, and aside from a few teams, attendance at the Open Cup matches is really pretty bad.
So, here are three ways the U.S. Open Cup can become an even better competition.
Better streaming, more television deals
The biggest drawback to the U.S. Open Cup is the lack of television deals and virtually no visibility.
For a number of years, the USSF streamed what matches they could on YouTube, which wasn’t perfect but it worked. But for this year, they went with another streaming service that was completely underwhelming and away from the potential eyeballs on YouTube.
So going forward, the USSF has to be better with showing U.S. Open Cup matches. They need to go back to streaming matches on YouTube to increase visibility and potentially striking a deal to stream a match or two on Facebook or Twitter to add even more viewers to this amazing tournament.
Also, while it would be harder than moving streaming sites, the USSF needs to add Open Cup matches on actual television as well. Last year, the semifinals were shown on ESPN2 for the first time ever, in addition to the final. I would love to see that expanded to the quarterfinals and maybe even the Round of 16 to drum up interest and support for the national tournament. And my pipe dream for this tournament is for there to be a studio whip around show for the early rounds on, going from match to match similar to the Red Zone channel. The likelihood of that happening is extremely low, but it really could bolster the U.S. Open Cup to national prominence.
Bring in MLS teams earlier
Currently, MLS teams enter the U.S. Open Cup in the fourth round of the competition. This means those teams need just five wins to win the tournament. To compare, Premier League teams need six wins in order to take home the FA Cup.
But I would love to see MLS teams enter the contest earlier, just to add to the challenge for the top division teams. As it stands, MLS sides will play one of the lower level teams and then it basically becomes an All-MLS affair, aside from the few exceptions. Bringing in the top division earlier means the MLS teams would likely face more USL and NASL teams and the occasional amateur team that makes it through.
Plus, this gets rid of the awkward MLS vs. MLS match ups in the fourth round when the league’s teams enter the contest. While Seattle vs. Portland and NYCFC vs. New York Red Bulls is fun in league play, forcing those match ups at the start of the tournament really dilutes the rivalry. If those teams make it through and end up playing each other by chance, then it becomes a different story. But those match ups need to be very limited, and this solution would do that.
Make it a true draw
But the biggest change the U.S. Open Cup needs is to make the draws actually random draws.
When the USSF hosts a “draw” for the next round, it essentially becomes pitting two teams close to each other geographically against each other. While this helps with travel, it results in . Seattle and Portland have now squared off three years in a row. FC Dallas and Oklahoma City faced each other both in 2015 and 2016. And the “Central Region” for the Round of Sixteen and quarterfinals has had the same teams three years in a row and the match ups this year are the exact same as last year.
I get it that the U.S. is a massive country, so it’s hard to have an open draw like the FA Cup. Having Christos FC play Seattle is essentially impossible. But drawing a line between east and west and having an open draw inside of those halves would be a massive upgrade. Christos FC against Orlando City is much more plausible. And where there are travel budget restraints for teams, the USSF can provide assistance.
Seeing the same teams year after year kills the tournament feel. It seems more like a schedule than anything else. So opening it up will make it feel like a real tournament where anything can happen.
The U.S. Open Cup is definitely one of the better tournaments in the country, but it’s a shame not a lot of people know or care about it. But if these changes are made, the competition will only improve and hopefully grow into the collective sports conscious in the U.S.