Can we make the US Open Cup matter?

I was having a soccer chat with a friend of mine—a die-hard Orlando City SC fan—a few weeks back when he mentioned that the team’s victory in last year’s US Open Cup “saved the entire season for us [fans].”

After stressing just how miserable his experience of watching his team has been lately, he noted that it wasn’t even until Orlando got into the final of the Cup last year that fan excitement finally took off.  Prior to that, the experience had been what I hear it is for most MLS fan bases. 

To wit, confusion from casual fans about what these matches even mean, a reluctance from season ticket holders to purchase an additional ticket for a midweek game they don’t care much about, and a hesitation from the club itself to play most of their marquee players during the early rounds. 

At times, the US Open Cup feels like a distraction; a necessary distraction but a distraction nonetheless.

I get it. I really do. But not only do I wish it was otherwise, but I believe that raising its level of import would ultimately be beneficial to the league and to the sport. As a result, I would love to see both the league and individual clubs would do a better job of stressing the importance of the Cup, helping transform it into ‘must watch’ entertainment.

Having experienced a lackadaisical season with little hope for success in the playoffs but with no fear of relegation, many fans, my Orlando friend and many others sorta drift toward the end of the season, without the fears, apprehensions, and excite attachment to a team, a sport, can give us. And, again, he never felt all that engaged with the US Open Cup until the final. 

Wouldn’t it be a better experience for all of us if these Cup matches somehow felt like they were more meaningful, as if they provided a entirely different level of bragging rights?

The Cup, giving out its first trophy in 1914, is ripe to become more prominent. While the prize money for the winner might not do all that much to fill in a team’s budget, it is arguably the easiest route into CONCACAF Champions League (another tournament that should be more prominent). 

Like the FA Cup in England, this is a knock out competition with some serious history (afterall, the two most successful teams ever are the original Bethlehem Steel and Maccabee Los Angeles with 5 Cups each). Because a huge amount of the excitement in these cups are the giant killer games early on, which allow supporters of the USL to argue that “The leagues aren’t that different anyway”, the Cup always seems like a bigger deal for teams lower on the soccer pyramid.

But if what if MLS and individual teams really pushed it? Highlighted the excitement and stakes? What if we could translate the excitement of someone like Josh Hakala (founder of TheCup.US) in a more general sense? In my mind, highlighting the value and excitement of Cup matches serves as yet another spectacle that highlights the sport as a whole. And the more we highlight the Cup itself, the more victory matters. The more loss hurts.

Look, I realize a tiny local column will do very little to convince MLS or our own team to galvanize around the value of the US Open Cup. That said, I also realize there is no reason we have to wait for others to take action.

Tickets are inexpensive for this Nashville SC’s Open Cup match against FC Dallas next week. And, given its midweek status and the problems I discussed above, it’s an opportunity for you to not only show up but to bring along a friend.

I would like to see Nashville win this thing. I want to see NSC begin filling its trophy case this season. You can help just by making it meaningful. 

Author: John Sloopgrew up in Asheville, NC, and after forays to Georgia and Iowa, found his way to Nashville over 25 years ago. On a trip to Portland, Oregon, 15 years ago, he watched the (then) USL Portland Timbers youth squad play one afternoon and fell completely and totally in love with soccer, to the detriment of his love of all other sports. In addition to thinking, writing, watching, and talking about soccer, Sloop teaches media and rhetoric at Vanderbilt. He is currently serving as the Chair of the Board of the Belcourt Theater and is part of the team that runs Tenx9 Nashville, a monthly story telling event.

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