The candidates for US Soccer President (from top left, clockwise): Paul Caligiuri, Kathy Carter, Carlos Cordeiro, Steve Gans, Eric Wynalda, Michael Winograd, Hope Solo, Kyle Martino. Photo: Chris Moore, US Youth Soccer
As the United Soccer Coaches (USC) Convention in Philadelphia came to a close on Jan. 21, the eight candidates for US Soccer President had spent much of the weekend trying to convince the voters in attendance that they are the best person to lead the federation.
There was no shortage of issues and discussion about what direction the US Soccer Federation needs to go. Youth development, solidarity payments, pay-to-play, gender equity, and the hot-button issue of promotion and relegation were just a few of the topics that were discussed and debated.
However, out of the numerous issues under the US Soccer umbrella, one of them was largely absent from the discussions, forums and one-on-one interviews: The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
The only candidate who mentioned the tournament was former US National Team star and current Fox Sports analyst Eric Wynalda. During his one-on-one forum session on Friday, Jan. 19, he spoke about the untapped potential the tournament has and his ambition to raise the Open Cup’s profile in the country.
Since US Open Cup did not get much attention at the USC convention, and with the Feb. 10 election day fast approaching, TheCup.us decided to reach out to each of the eight candidates to get their views on the competition and how it can be made into a major sporting event for the first time in its 105-year history.
Each candidate was asked the following:
The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is entering its 105th tournament in 2018 and despite being the second-oldest, continually-operating soccer tournaments in the world, it has struggled to break through as a major event in this country’s sporting landscape. What three improvements would you make to help the U.S. Open Cup become a major event in this country?
Here are their responses (in alphabetical order):
Paul Caligiuri (right) addresses the crowd at a US Soccer presidential candidate forum put on by US Youth Soccer at the 2018 United Soccer Coaches Convention in Philadelphia. Photo: Chris Moore, US Youth Soccer
I think visibility is a key aspect of it and when we start looking at visibility and maybe we could look at broadcasting at earlier stages. It’s really perplexing actually because [this year] was the first year I’ve coached in the qualifying process and the adult league process [NOTE: Caligiuri works with the club Orange County FC in Southern California]. I used to be on the other side as a professional player just jumping in in the later rounds.
Knowing more of the landscape now after having a year of experience in it, I think we can make great improvements and with improvements comes the excitement of what opportunities exist there but certainly at the earlier stages, as we do some sort of webcasting or some sort of media attention there, those players and our fans as well, as they get eliminated, maybe they will follow the sequence all the way to the top. So I think we can bring [the US Open Cup] together just through the enormous amount of participation we have and that interest and start building a platform that way.
I was fortunate, I was playing for the L.A. Galaxy at the time. Certainly, we had a star-studded team with international players and we definitely didn’t want to lose to an amateur club. I think we have to look at areas to improve [the tournament] because some of the teams qualify, such as my team [Orange County FC], we qualified last August and we have to wait until May to start playing and it’s a long duration and at the amateur level, what happens is, a lot of players go different places … so from August to May, that’s a big gap for players that are either in college or post-college working or looking for jobs in different states and things of that nature.
There’s a lot of opportunity we have to build the game and make those improvements to make those amateur clubs equal or more competitive to push the top teams which would make it exciting.
When you look at college basketball, we wait for March Madness. This has all the makings of something like that. We certainly have to create that scenario on an equal level, at least in terms of competition, or the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. The upsets. The teams are lower seeds take out the top teams. We see that in every cup. I’ve been on the end of … in Germany, where we played the cup championships and we played against lower level teams. A lot of times Bundesliga teams, second Bundesliga teams got eliminated early and it makes it exciting. We see that, primarily for the American sports audience, the soccer fans see that in the FA Cup. For the [fans] who follow that, it’s quite exciting. We could do a lot of work and it’s exciting where it’s about where it could be going.
Kathy Carter (right) addresses the crowd at a US Soccer presidential candidate forum put on by US Youth Soccer at the 2018 United Soccer Coaches Convention in Philadelphia. Photo: Chris Moore, US Youth Soccer
The three improvements I would suggest are:
1. Modifying the ownership structure of the tournament so it is shared between USASA, US Soccer and the Professional Leagues.
2. Shortening the turnaround between the Round of 16, Quarterfinals, Semifinals and Finals, and playing these across four straight Wednesdays. This will provide more opportunity for storytelling and media build up, which will drive ratings that will allow for future monetization.
3. Increasing marketing support so that there is more attention on the tournament, the stories, teams, and players, and allocating resources so all rounds are produced and broadcast.
I’ve had the opportunity to attend several US Open Cup matches over the years, and I know how thrilling these matches can be. For more than a century, they’ve reflected the open, inclusive spirit of soccer. With amateurs playing professionals, it’s unlike anything else in
American sports. We’re inspired by Cinderella stories like last year’s Christos FC and FC Cincinnati. Our adult players remind us that soccer is truly a game for life.
Carlos Cordeiro (right) answers a question from moderator JP Dellacamera at a US Soccer presidential candidate forum put on by US Youth Soccer at the 2018 United Soccer Coaches Convention in Philadelphia. Photo: Chris Moore, US Youth Soccer
I salute everyone involved in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup for the impressive progress they’ve made in recent years. TV broadcasts and live streams online are attracting more viewers across the country. Last year’s final was played in front of a sold-out crowd in Kansas City. This year will be the largest competition in the modern era, with more than 100 adult teams. I believe that growing the US Open Cup—and helping it to become a major event in the United States—is one of the best ways to help grow soccer in America, especially our affiliated amateur leagues. We need to attract more viewers, fans, players and teams. If elected President of U.S. Soccer, I will focus on three areas.
First, we need to increase the US Open Cup’s overall media exposure. This will require increased marketing as well as more outreach through social media, including greater outreach to unaffiliated adult soccer players and teams. Last year, most of the matches were streamed live. If elected—and as streaming costs go down over time and as technology improves—I’ll push for even more matches to be streamed live. We should also work with U.S. Soccer’s broadcast partners to increase the number of matches that are televised.
Second, we need to help increase participation by reducing travel costs. USSF already reimburses amateur teams for travel expenses. During my time as Vice President of USSF, our Federation has increased these reimbursements. But for many players and teams, travel costs can still be a burden. Increasing USSF reimbursements for travel costs for teams in the qualifying and opening rounds would help lighten this burden and attract more players and teams.
Finally, we should increase prize money at all levels. As we refine the competition, we should look for more commercial opportunities, which would, in turn, allow us to offer larger prizes. As a start, we could increase prize money for the last amateur team remaining in the final rounds. Over time, we might increase prize money across amateur team divisions. This is one of the reasons that I will work to significantly increase the USSF budget—so that we can invest more in our players and grow the game at all levels, including unaffiliated amateur leagues.
Steve Gans (right) answers a question from moderator JP Dellacamera at a US Soccer presidential candidate forum put on by US Youth Soccer at the 2018 United Soccer Coaches Convention in Philadelphia. Photo: Chris Moore, US Youth Soccer
So, the US Open Cup itself, if you compare it to the FA Cup … it’s so ingrained in the culture in England. We don’t have that yet. Whatever the top league has ever been in this country, if it’s MLS now or if it’s the NASL 30 years ago, I think there’s always been a tension there between should we participate … because we look bad if we lose? Is it the smart thing to do? Or should we do it because it’s going to raise the whole game and it’s just excitement? The problem is, just like so much of the game in this country, it’s not ingrained in the culture as much as it is in other places and so we have all these chicken and the egg problems. And I think what has to happen is everyone has to get on board.
To be fair, the division one leagues at various times, have indeed done it, but I think they vacillate – they go back and forth. If we lose to a USL team, then it doesn’t look good. I think there could be money put behind it so there really is promotion [of the tournament], and this is one of the things that’s going to make the game more tribal and inculcated in the culture. So parties need to get together, and more money needs to put into it.
We’re not where the FA Cup is. Even with all the money in the Premier League, the FA Cup isn’t quite as significant as it used to be but boy when you hear about an upset, do you get excited. There’s something neat about Manchester United playing against a team on a ground of 8,000 [seats]. We’ve got to get there.
It’s about marketing, like so many other things, it’s about cooperation. Different constituencies or levels of the same constituency getting together and seeing it as one in the same mind.
Kyle Martino (right) addresses the crowd at a US Soccer presidential candidate forum put on by US Youth Soccer at the 2018 United Soccer Coaches Convention in Philadelphia. Photo: Chris Moore, US Youth Soccer
Kyle Martino began his comments by saying that he is a big fan of the US Open Cup because “it’s one of the only tournaments I ever won.” Martino was part of the 2002 Columbus Crew team that won the US Open Cup, helping the club’s owner, Lamar Hunt, win the tournament that bears his name for the first time.
[The 2002 US Open Cup Final] was a special night, and covering other leagues that have domestic competitions like that that are historic, that are meritocracies, that include everyone. It’s essential. It’s one of the oldest tournaments in this country and I think it’s vital to the sports landscape, not only in soccer, but it’s emblematic of what’s great about a country of opportunity, and it needs to be revived and it needs to be focused on.
One thing that’s not connected with it is to strengthen and open the possibilities for professional teams. We have many markets that have professional teams. Some of them don’t have access to the upward mobility or the resources to continue to grow that, but the affinity is there. And the Open Cup gives you a glimpse of what happens when the minnows beat the giants.
So we need to fund, open up and encourage investment into local communities that have teams that want to grow and want to invest and then we need to market, invest and cover this great tournament. It’s not a hard sell. People like sports stories, right? It’s one of the greatest sports stories you can tell, the US Open Cup. I might be a little bit bias because I won it and I want everyone to know that it’s not easy to win that thing.
Hope Solo (right) answers a question from moderator JP Dellacamera at a US Soccer presidential candidate forum put on by US Youth Soccer at the 2018 United Soccer Coaches Convention in Philadelphia. Photo: Chris Moore, US Youth Soccer
I would make the US Open Cup stronger and more visible borrowing a few ideas from the US Open tennis tournament — men’s and women’s tournaments, qualifying stages, same tournament structure as previously existed, equal prize money.
I would make The Cup the central United States Soccer Championship. I would allow it’s inclusiveness in the soccer communities across America to help us build a property far more compelling than single entity owned teams playing against one another.
I would welcome and enjoy the sport of MLS winning against, and occasionally falling, to a team that finds its rhythm during the tournament and rises perhaps from nowhere (and is the beneficiary of a few lucky bounces). I would help the property become more uniquely American by allowing regional areas to compete for the Cup to come to their city. This could also help the community participate as fans.
My team would facilitate digital and media property growth because of the intrigue of this format (which is already in place for the men). This money would be allocated to the youth and adult soccer communities to drive participation. The participation of such varied communities and the celebrations at these venues from a local soccer perspective will help grow the flagging soccer participation we are currently seeing around the country.
I would create and foster opportunity for the community to build teams and cheering blocks and create an individual flavor for each venue to increase the excitement in a championship that is so unique to the United States — and we as a nation will connect more deeply to what soccer really is in America. I want to focus on growing the prize money for the various divisions. This prize money will be equal for the men’s and the women’s tournament creating an opportunity for women’s soccer players to have another avenue to make a living wage. These winnings will serve as motivation to drive interest back to the sport.
I will would make The Cup the priority of the next four years. The growth and ad dollars generated by elevating the status and the awareness of this tournament will bring investment into US Soccer so that we can build and in turn get that money back to building the youth programs and the adult programs across the country.
Michael Winograd (right) addresses the crowd at a US Soccer presidential candidate forum put on by US Youth Soccer at the 2018 United Soccer Coaches Convention in Philadelphia. Photo: Chris Moore, US Youth Soccer
First of all, you need to market it, you need to focus on it. It’s like anything else. When you make it a significant and important focus, I think that is going to get it to the forefront of things. We need to bring as many amateur clubs into it as possible. I mean, in my mind, an open cup is really simple. You start at the absolute lowest level and people start playing each other. The absolute lowest level of amateur soccer has a shot to win the Open Cup. That kind of excitement, I think, would help generate excitement and marketing and I think those types of things would bring exposure to it.
And I think one of the other things that would help the amateurs getting exciting about it is making a commitment to scouting, making a commitment to saying ‘hey, listen … if you’re participating in this, you’re going to feel like you’re participating in the … Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.’ For those who are amateurs who are still trying to play competitively, maybe [they want to] get out of the amateur ranks, there are scouts there. We’re going to work with MLS potentially and the other professional leagues to really make it a focal point and, again, advertise, get everybody involved and get scouts there and really make it the big deal that it is.
Eric Wynalda (right) addresses the crowd at a US Soccer presidential candidate forum put on by US Youth Soccer at the 2018 United Soccer Coaches Convention in Philadelphia. Photo: Chris Moore, US Youth Soccer
It has been a huge part of my platform. It might be the first thing that people see because I’ve been actively soliciting interest in the space itself. I think one of the biggest problems that we’ve seen is that MLS is protecting their product by disallowing any money to come in through the federation to incentivize or give more visability to or create maybe a window of hope for some of the smaller teams that deserve the attention they are certainly not getting.
So, Lamar Hunt [US] Open Cup, and it is so appropriately named because I love Lamar. I was very fortunate to know the man … we’re going to take it to a whole new level and I hope that people understand that’s not a campaign promise. That is something that will never stop. People know how I feel about the tournament and the competition. It’s the longest-standing event that we have in our country and it deserves the recognition and respect.
I don’t know if I went all three things, I think visability, incentivizing the opportunity for [smaller] teams and creating those stories and telling those stories, celebrating those stories. That’s what this country’s about. We have underserviced too many great venues that have great teams that have great stories that need to be told. If I had to pick the top three things that I’m going to do as president, it’s definitely falling into that category.