Biggest US Open Cup controversies, Part 2: NASL bails, World Cup tickets, buying home field and more
Good or bad, controversies all have one thing in common, they get people talking. Over the years in the US Open Cup, there have been plenty of controversial moments. The problem is, not too many people know about them. Outside of the famous US-England match in 1950, US Soccer history isn’t romanticized like baseball, or made into epic tales like those in football.
Most soccer fans know little about the rich history of the Open Cup, particularly the games other than those of the championship finals. Over the past few years, TheCup.us has dug up the details of those pre-Final tournament games, many of which have never seen the light of day.
We’ve collected the 20 of these tales of dispute from the past 100 years of Open Cup play. This is not a complete list by all means. There is much, much more research to be done and along the way we are sure to find more controversies. For now, sit back and enjoy some of the more tabloid-worthy moments in US Open Cup history.
Note: As you read this, you’ll notice a lot of players with just one name. This is not an oversight on our part, but rather, many of the sources of this information (newspapers, publications etc.) only use the last name of players in their stories.
Part 2: The last 50 years
Apr. 14 – May 2, 1971
Hamm’s Semifinal Forfeit
In 1971 St. Louis’ Hamm’s SC became the first team (but not the last) to forfeit a National Semifinal Open Cup contest.
On April 14, Open Cup secretary Joe Barriskill informed the four remaining teams (Hamm’s, Sparta A & BA of Chicago, Denver Kickers and Pabst Blue Ribbon of Milwaukee) in the Midwest half of the West bracket that the survivor would play Yugoslav American SC in Los Angeles on May 2, and that they should plan accordingly.
On April 19, Tony Morejon from Yugoslav American called both Sparta and Hamm’s (the remaining Midwest teams) requesting player and team info to use in publicity for the May 2 game. Hamm’s sent newspaper clippings.
After Hamm’s defeated Sparta 1-0, Hamm’s representative Jim Moore contacted Cup Chairman John O. Best on April 25 to ask how much the Yugoslav American team was going to guarantee Hamm’s to travel to Los Angeles. Best informed Moore that the away team was required to offer the home team travel expenses for 18 persons. Up until 1971, it was the host team’s obligation to offer the traveling team reimbursement for their travel costs.
Best received a telegram from John Schaper of Hamm’s informing him that Hamm’s were invoking Rule 29 of the USSFA Rules & Constitution and offering $2,000 to play the game in St. Louis. Morejon called to inform Best that they had received a telegram from Hamm’s stating they would not be able to play the game on May 2 in Los Angeles, and they would also file a protest with the Open Cup committee.
Barriskill then telephoned Moore with a proposal in which the USFA would waive their 15 percent cut of the gate receipts and include that with the percentage Hamm’s would receive as the away team, which would total an estimated $2,500. Moore agreed.
When Cup committee member Bob Guelker phoned Hamm’s to tell them the plan was set, he was told that Hamm’s could not make the trip because three of their players would be working on the day of the game.
After being informed of the proposal by the USFA, Morejon decided to call Guelker and was told that the Hamm’s team was apparently at the airport for a 6:30 pm flight to Los Angeles, but their coach and three players could not be located. Morejon seemed encouraged that Hamm’s would make it to LA for the game after all.
Rancho Cienega Stadium was opened to the public at noon on May 2, but Hamm’s were nowhere in sight. Signs were then posted at the stadium that the game was called off, and an exhibition game was played instead for the fans that showed up. The Cup committee concurred that Hamm’s did indeed forfeit by non-compliance and failure to appear for the scheduled game. A protest was received from Hamm’s, but they were informed that the cup committee’s decision was final.
Oct. 31, 1971
New York Greek American SC vs. Everest Merrich
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a first round match in the Southern New York qualifying elimination tournament for the 1972 US Open Cup championship.
In one corner, a perennial heavyweight contender for the US Open Cup championship with a roster full of international players, from the famous German-American League of New York City: Greek American SC.
In the other corner, from the lightly regarded Long Island Soccer League, with a roster full of young American-born players: Everest Merrich.
The Greek American squad treated the match as a formality, as two of their regular players didn’t even bother to show up. What resulted was one of the most shocking scorelines in Open Cup history: Greek American SC 1, Everest Merrich 2.
The GASC immediately filed a protest alleging that two of the players Everest used were ineligible. Both players had in fact been in the GASC organization in the past. One player, who was part of a GASC Junior team at one time, jumped to Everest without getting a proper release and was under a two year suspension. The other player was supposed to be serving a three year suspension for the same offence, and was also ejected from a recent game for striking an opposing player.
Both players were indeed found to be ineligible to play for Everest. When the Open cup Committee ruled that a replay, and not Everest’s disqualification, was in order, the Greeks were furious.
“There is no reason we should have to replay the game,” GASC executive secretary Steve Pantios told Soccer America. The Greeks argued that the game should be forfeited to them, since Everest had knowingly used the ineligible players. With the replay date set for Nov. 17, Everest announced they would pull out of the competition and forfeit, but not due to the ineligible player.
What followed was a war of words between the two clubs. Everest club secretary Dennis Guglielmetti explained the stance taken by his team.
“Through no fault of ours this so-called ‘ineligible’ player was signed on and there is some doubt in my mind that he is indeed ineligible.” Guglielmetti continued, “When the Cup Committee ruled that a replay must be ordered we were shocked. We beat the Greeks fairly and I still feel that we can beat them again, but to play the game again in Cup competition would be unfair not only to our players, but to soccer fans as well.” Guglielmetti went on to also say that his club would be happy to play the game as a friendly, but not as a Cup game, since he felt a replay would “take away the glory which everyone knows we achieved in the first meeting between our two clubs.”
Greek American manager Aristos Vasiledes was not shy about his feelings when told of Guglielmetti’s statement.
“It’s just too bad that they didn’t want to go ahead with the replay since there is no doubt in my mind that the ire brought up in our men would have resulted in them getting one of the worst trouncings in the history of soccer in this country.”
The Greek American club fell out of contention two games later, dropping a 1-0 decision to New York Hota in the New York semifinals. According to TheCup.us records, Everest Merrich never entered the Open Cup again.
April 17, 1971
New York Hota players pull double duty
On their way to the club’s lone Open cup championship in 1971, the New York Hota team ran into a bit of controversy when some of their players pulled double duty with the New York Cosmos.
Hota were scheduled to face Taunton Sport of Massachusetts in the Eastern semifinals on April 17. The day before, five members of the team, including manager Gordon Bradley, played in the New York Cosmos NASL season opening game in St. Louis (the very first game in Cosmos history), a 2-1 win over the St. Louis Stars. The players then flew back to the east coast in time to help Hota defeat Taunton 4-1 in extra time and earn a spot in the Eastern Final versus Cleveland’s Danube Schwaben.
While Taunton did not file a formal protest, they did lodge a complaint over the players’ appearance for two different teams. The argument was that the Hota players had not been cleared to play for the Cosmos while still registered with Hota.
In the report of the annual USFA meetings, it was decided that the double signing of the players had not violated any Cup rules, and was “done in the spirit and best interests of the game displaying for the first time cooperation between a local organization and the professional league to get the game off the ground and moving.”
Cosmos GM and Vice President Clive Toye absolved Hota of any wrong doing, and pointed out that had the Cup schedule been completed as planned, the conflict would have been avoided. In the same report the USFA recommended that rules be set in place to keep players from appearing for one club while their registration with another team is in effect.
Hota would go on to defeat Danube Schwaben 3-1 in the Eastern Final, and win the Open Cup with a wild 6-4 extra time win over Yugoslav American SC of Los Angeles.
March 19, 1972-March 25, 1972
Willy Roy gets arrested, Croatians get angry
It began with a player being arrested during the game, and ended with a walk-off protest in a separate competition and $100,000 worth of lawsuits. Such was the 1972 Illinois Open Cup Final between the UASC Lions and Croatian SC.
After the Croatians scored the tying goal, a fan ran on to the field in celebration. A while later, the fan claimed he was struck by Lions forward and future Hall of Famer Willy Roy, resulting in the arrest of Roy after regulation time was completed.
The Croatians won the game 2-1 in extra time, but the Lions protested that they were put at an unfair disadvantage by not having Roy on the field for extra time. A ruling was handed down in favor of the Lions, and the game was ordered replayed the next week.
The Lions won the replay 2-1. After the game, Illinois Open Cup Commissioner George Meyer was confronted by several people associated with the Croatian team. However, the trouble did not end there.
The next day the Croatians were set to play Schwaben in the playoffs of the yearly Chicago indoor winter league. During the game one of the Croatian players was sent off for remarks made to the referee. This led to the entire Croatian SC team walking off the field. A few minutes later two of the referees were attacked by three individuals believed to be associated with the Croatian team.
The Illinois State Soccer Association demanded the names of those responsible for the attack. A hearing was called by the National Soccer League, were Croatia SC played. While the ISSA declined to attend the meeting, they handed down their own decision: the team was suspended for one year, club officials for 3 years, and some players for one year.
The NSL protested the decision, arguing that the Croatian SC had not been given a hearing, and that the NSL had not had a chance to announce their decision on the matter. The Croatian SC then attempted to get a court injunction to stop the Lions from playing further Cup games, arguing not only the lack of a hearing from the ISSA, but that they were not given proper amount of notice of the replay.
The Croatians wound up filing a lawsuit against Open Cup Commissioner George Meyer, as well as a $100,000 lawsuit against the ISSA for punitive damages. What became of the lawsuits is unclear, but the Lions went on to the Open Cup Semifinals, where they lost to Los Angeles’s Yugoslav-American SC 2-1.
Jan. 5 and Feb. 2, 1975
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Replay……
On Jan. 5, 1975, New York Hungaria and Inter-Giuliana faced each other at the Metropolitan Oval in Queens in a Southern New York preliminary round game. After 90 minutes of play and the score knotted at two, both teams agreed that it was too frigid to continue, so the match was halted.
On the same day at George Washington High School in Manhattan, Doxa and defending Open Cup champions NY Greek American SC had also finished 2-2 after full time, but were able to play the full 30 minutes of extra time. With the penalty tiebreaker at 4-4, the referee called a halt to the game due to darkness.
A month later all four teams gathered at Metropolitan Oval, assuming full replays of their matches were in order. Doxa and the Greek Americans took the field first, but officials quickly informed them that instead of a replay, they would resume the penalty tiebreaker were they left off in January. This ruling infuriated both teams, who felt the only true solution was a full replay of the match. Roberto Illenis was up first for the Greek Americans, and sent his shot over the bar.
When Doxa’s Nick DeKoste converted his kick the match was over, in less then three minutes. “Let it be known that even before we took the field I told them (Doxa) that if we were the winners it was not a victory I would be proud of.” Greek American manager Kyrikis Fitilis told Soccer America reporter Joe Marcus. Even Doxa supporters were not pleased with how their team advanced.
“This is no way for us to win a match and gain in Cup play,” said George Andredis, a Doxa fan. “There was no real soccer skill involved and I am not proud that my club won the game that way.”
Next up was Hungaria and Inter-Giuliana, and as you might guess, instead of a replay, officials simply ordered the teams to continue play where they left off in January. After 17 minutes of extra time, Ringo Contilla, reigning MVP of the American Soccer League, scored for Inter-Giuliana and they hung on for a 3-2 victory.
Doxa and Inter would eventually meet in the Southern New York final, with Inter prevailing 4-1. Inter Giuliana made it all the way to the Open Cup final, falling to Los Angeles’s Maccabee AC 1-0.
May 29-July 2, 1983
FOE Eagles/GAAC dispute
What do you get when you mix ineligible players, court injunctions, replays, and a threat of an on-field protest? An Open Cup controversy for the ages.
The saga between Seattle’s FOE Eagles and the Greek American AC of San Francisco began simply enough. The two clubs met in the 1983 Region IV Final on May 29 at San Francisco’s Balboa Stadium for the right to travel to Houston, Texas for the National Semifinals. John Kline scored the lone goal in the 19th minute to give the Eagles a 1-0 victory. After it was discovered the Eagles used an improperly registered player (ex-Seattle Sounder Pepe Fernandez), the match was forfeited to the Greek Americans, and they made plans to go to Texas.
The Eagles did not give up easily however. On June 27, the club’s attorney was able to obtain a court order from a Seattle judge declaring the Eagles the winner of the match. The owners of the Greek American AC, John and Jim Rally, were furious when they learned that there was no official USSF representation at the court hearing. USSF volunteer Jo Anderson was present for the hearing, but was turned away because she was not an official USSF representative. The USSF appealed the ruling, and a compromise was reached in which the game would be replayed, with Fernandez eligible. The Rallys arranged to have an attorney of their own investigate the matter, but the replay was still on.
As a result, the Eagles and GAAC were scheduled to kick off their replay in Houston the night before the National Semifinals were to begin. At 10:20 p.m. the game began, and almost 40 minutes later, Peter Fewing gave the Eagles another insurmountable 1-0 lead. At the stroke of midnight the FOE Eagles were once again Region IV champs, set to play the New York Pancyprian Freedoms in the next day’s semifinal.
The next day the Rally brothers announced they would file a lawsuit against the USSF, and also threatened to have their team take the field against the Freedoms in protest of the result from the night before. Delmar Stadium security and Houston police were informed that the Greek American players were to be ejected from the stadium if they tried to take the field. In the end none of the GAAC players showed up, and the Rallys watched as the Freedoms defeated the Eagles 4-2.
John Rally again stated that once he and his brother got back to San Francisco, they would file a $50,000 lawsuit against the USSF for the team’s travel expenses to Houston. “Of course, it’s a great expense for us to come all the way down here and not be able to play in the semifinal.” Rally said. “The USSF never showed the power to dictate and follow their rules.”
Rally also asserted that the USSF should be prepared to present their case in a court in order to explain the rules. “We went to a great expense. The USSF told us to have an attorney investigate the situation in Seattle.” Rally said. “The USSF told us we would have to pay the attorneys, which we aren’t going to do. We’re not going to do their work, it’s their job to do it.”
While the USSF asserted that they believed their original ruling in favor the Greek American team was correct, they admitted that further action was not taken to fight the court order because they wanted the semifinals to run smoothly and be played on time. ‘There was nothing we could do about it, unless we wanted to go to jail or be fined.” USSF rep Milton Aimi said of the Seattle court order.
The NASL Snubs the Open Cup
In the 100-year history of the US Open Cup, there is one very large and noticeable gap in the history of the tournament, the lack of participation from clubs in the North American Soccer League. While no definitive reason has been given, there are many theories as to why the league stayed out of the cup.
One suggestion is that the league didn’t want to risk being embarrassed by losing games to semi-pro teams. The most likely reason is that the NASL simply ignored the Open Cup, seeing it as a competition for amateur teams. Most of the team owners in the league were attracted by the large crowds that were showing up to watch the league games, surely they were not worried about competing against lower level teams.
Despite this, there have been a few times when the NASL was close to participating in the tournament.
In the very early days of the NASL, the teams of the league seemed to have every intention of participating in the Open Cup. In the fall of 1969, the National Soccer News announced that the four U.S. NASL clubs, The Atlanta Chiefs, Dallas Tornados, Kansas City Spurs and St. Louis would participate in the tournament. The four teams would ultimately withdraw in early 1970, citing conflicts with the NASL schedule.
In 1981 the reserve team of the Los Angeles Aztecs, who were playing in the Greater Los Angeles Soccer League at the time, took part in the Open Cup. The team reached the final of the Los Angeles preliminary tournament before falling to Maccabee AC. It is the only known time that a team affiliated with a NASL club took part in the Open Cup.
In the dying days of the NASL, a team finally showed interest in participating in the tournament. In April of 1984, defending NASL champion Tulsa Roughnecks made a formal request to enter the 1984 Open Cup. The initial plan was to allow the Roughnecks to step in and compete in the South region finals in San Antonio on May 19-20 of that year, with the winner moving on to the National finals on June 23-24 in St. Louis.
That plan had to be scrapped because the Roughneck’s NASL schedule interfered with the Regional and National finals, but there was optimism that Tulsa and perhaps other NASL clubs could plan ahead and participate in the 1985 tournament. Unfortunately, the NASL folded before the 1985 season could begin, eliminating the possibility for any kind of Open Cup participation from the North American Soccer League.
The NASL wasn’t the only professional league to stay away from the Open Cup. As the American Soccer League began to expand outside of its traditional territory of New York, New Jersey and New England in the early 1970s, fewer and fewer of the league’s clubs took part in the tournament. A few years after the death of the NASL and ASL, the American Professional Soccer League continued the tradition of professional teams avoiding the cup.
In fact, the APSL went as far as to create its own competition in 1992 called the Professional Cup. The tournament was contested by all five of the APSL’s clubs, as well as the Vancouver 86ers and Montreal Supra from the Canadian Soccer League and the Chicago Power from the indoor NPSL. By this time the Open Cup was seen more of an amateur competition, and the APSL clubs may have been more concerned about their own league’s survival, as it has shrunk to five teams by this point.
One national league that did see some of its clubs participate in the early 90s was the USISL. A handful of clubs from the league took part in the cup, including a round robin qualifying tournament in 1991 for the leagues Tex-Oma Conference clubs. That same year the Richardson Rockets and New Mexico Chiles faced off in the semifinals, with Richardson representing the league in the final.
In 1995, teams from both APSL and USISL would face off against the USASA clubs, and with the debut of Major League Soccer in 1996, the top leagues in the country were once again represented in the Open Cup.
June 25, 1994
’94 World Cup keeps McCormick Kickers from Open Cup Semifinal
It’s one thing to miss out on the final because your opponent outplayed you, or even if the game had a controversial ending. To miss a final without stepping on the field brings with it a new level of frustration.
The chance to watch the world’s best players without traveling outside your borders does not come along very often. Thus, the United States hosting the 1994 World Cup was huge for many soccer fans and players. For the McCormick Kickers, it cost them a chance at a national championship.
The Kickers, from St. Petersburg, Fla., were forced to forfeit their National Semifinal match against Milwaukee’s Bavarian SC because the date conflicted with a World Cup game in Orlando the Kickers had purchased tickets to well in advance.
The semifinal was originally set to be played on June 12, but for reasons that were not explained to team sponsor Brooks McCormick, the date was changed to June 19. Due to the tournament sponsor having a contract that stipulated the two finalists must be known a month before the Cup final, the weekend of June 25-26 were the only other option. Since the Bavarian SC was the hosts, they held the right to select the date.
The Bavarian team itself had purchased a large quantity of tickets for the Greece-Bulgaria game on the 26th in Chicago, so June 25 was the only option for them. Kickers manager Steve Gogas had sent a letter to the Cup committee in mid-April, long before the Kickers even qualified for the semifinal, explaining that the team would not be able to play on either June 19 or 25.
“It’s a shame for the kids who worked so hard. It’s not fair for the players. It’s not fair for the sport,” Gogas told the St. Petersburg Times. In protest, Gogas resigned from his position as Kickers manager.
Gordon Redshaw, the chairman of the National Cup committee, said the Kickers “wrongfully assumed we were willing to change the date. We gave them an extra week and that’s the best we could do.”
“It’s a joke,” said Kickers defender Craig Fossett. “The World Cup isn’t something you pass up. And they told us two months ago this wouldn’t be a problem.”
Aug. 20 – Sept. 15, 1996
In the Quarterfinals, Kansas City is playing the Colorado……WHO?!
1996 was a big year for the US Open Cup, with teams from Major League Soccer entering the competition in the debut season of the league. All of the lower division clubs were lining up to take their shot at the new big boys of American soccer. What the APSL’s Colorado Foxes did not count on was being part of the first big controversy of the Open Cup’s Modern Professional Era.
After dispatching the USISL’s El Paso Patriots 5-1 in the second round, the Foxes looked forward to a chance to upset the then named Kansas City Wiz, who was one of the stronger teams in the first summer of MLS play. Before the APSL upstarts could face their MLS goliath, another team’s World Cup aspirations derailed them.
On Aug. 20, US Soccer held a conference call to sort out the details of the Quarterfinal matches. As hosts, Kansas City offered two dates to play the game, Sept. 14 or 15. APSL commissioner Richard Groff objected to both dates, citing the Foxes APSL match on Aug. 13 against Rochester. After Kansas City refused to move the game to Denver, the Foxes GM eventually agreed to play the match on Aug. 15, with the thought that the team would have their full roster available to handle the one day of rest between games.
Two days later, the Jamaica Football Federation formally requested the release of five players (Walter Boyd, Anthony McCreath, Gregory Messam, Wolde Harris and Fabian Davis) on the Foxes roster for their Aug. 15 World Cup qualifying match against Honduras. The Foxes made a request with US Soccer to have the match rescheduled, but Kansas City refused to move the date, citing their own tight schedule in Major League Soccer. On Aug. 10, the US Open Cup committee told both clubs they would be allowed to add two players to their rosters, but the match had to be played on Aug. 15.
After considering their league schedule, loss of players and quality of players available, the Foxes took a vote and decided to forfeit the match to the Wiz.
”This was a tough decision, reached only after a hard-fought battle,” Foxes president and former Denver Broncos kicker Rich Karlis said in the forfeiture announcement. ”Unfortunately, it’s the result of many long discussions ending in an inability to reach a compromise.”
Instead of giving the Wiz a free ride to the semifinals, it was decided to allow the Colorado Rapids to take the Foxes’ place. At the time, the Rapids were dealing with a miserable first season, sitting in last place in the MLS Western Conference and long eliminated from playoff contention. To make matters more interesting, right about the time the Rapids were thrust into the Open Cup, they fired manager Bob Houghton and general manager Rich Levine.
Rapids forward Roy Wegerle was named the interim manager, and he seemed optimistic about the Rapids chances against the Wiz, who were in first place in the MLS Western Conference.
“It’s some way of salvaging a somewhat disappointing season,” Wegerle told the Rocky Mountain News. “We’re not as bad as we showed this season.”
Wegerle’s optimism was rewarded with a 3-2 victory over the Wiz on the strength of two Chris Henderson goals. Nearly a month later on Oct. 12 the Rapids would fall in the semifinals to the Rochester Raging Rhinos 3-0. The very next night the Wiz were eliminated from the MLS playoffs by the Los Angeles Galaxy. The Colorado Foxes went on to drop their first round APSL playoffs series to the Seattle Sounders.
June 4 – July 10, 2003
Chesapeake Dragons vs. Bridgeport Italians vs. New Hampshire Phantoms
On June 4, 2003, the USASA’s Bridgeport Italians pulled off a 1-0 win over the Chesapeake Dragons of the USL Premier Development League. A Ruben Fernandez goal in the 25th minute was all the amateurs from Connecticut needed to move on to Round 2 where they would face the New Hampshire Phantoms of the USL Pro Soccer League.
On June 25, they lost to the Phantoms 3-0, but the match ultimately wouldn’t count because Chesapeake filed a late protest that meant if Bridgeport won they had to play Chesapeake again but if they didn’t win, New Hampshire had to play another second round game against Chesapeake.
With the second round match a week away, Chesapeake filed a protest with US Soccer on June 18, alleging that Bridgeport had provided “inaccurate” information about two players on the roster that was submitted prior to the June 4 match. The main focus of the protest was Darin Lewis, a former Trinidad and Tobago national team member who Chesapeake alleged was listed as Lewis Daria on Bridgeport’s roster. Chesapeake later dropped their complaint about the other player, Carlos Silva, since he never entered the game.
During the conference call hearing regarding the matter on June 23, Bridgeport representative Boris Medvedev confirmed that the player in question was in fact Darin Lewis, but maintained that his club did not knowingly attempt to deceive, as they believed Lewis was properly registered with the Connecticut State Soccer Association.
At the conclusion of the conference call, the US Open Cup Adjudication and Discipline Panel ruled that Lewis was ineligible to play due in the Open Cup for Bridgeport due to being registered as a professional player with US Soccer.
The panel also ruled that while Bridgeport did not knowingly attempt to deceive, they were “responsible for not insuring the accuracy and proper handling of its player registration process.” With a 3-2 vote, the panel decided the match was to be replayed on July 2. The only problem was the second round game between Bridgeport and New Hampshire was to kick off on June 25, just two days after the hearing.
What resulted was a Twilight Zone-type of situation. It was decided that the New Hampshire-Bridgeport game would go off as planned, with the following stipulations: If Bridgeport won, they would have to go back and replay their first round game with Chesapeake to advance to the third round. If Chesapeake won the replay, New Hampshire would have to play another second round match to determine who advances to the third round.
Chesapeake would also get to play New Hampshire in the second round if New Hampshire defeated Bridgeport in the second round.
Get all that?
The final scenario was the one that won out, as the Phantoms won 3-0 over Bridgeport on June 25, resulting in a July 10 game that saw the Phantoms prevail 3-2 over Chesapeake in sudden death extra time.
After all that, what did New Hampshire get for winning two second round games? A match against the Rochester Raging Rhinos, in which the Phantoms were pounded 5-1.
Buying Home Field Advantage
When professional clubs joined the Open Cup in 1995, the USSF implemented a bidding process for later round matches to determine who would host tournament games. In the early rounds, the Open Cup commissioner would announce the hosts for each game, taking into account factors such as travel, venue quality and availability while also making sure that one team did not host too many consecutive games. Prior to 1995, the cup commissioner, backed by a committee, would determine who hosted every game of the tournament.
George Mellis, the long-time general manager for the New York Greek American Atlas, a four-time Open Cup champion founded in 1941, said, in his experience, the decisions by the cup commissioner were almost always fair. Very simple logic was involved in the decisions, such as, if both venues were equal and you hosted the last round, then you wouldn’t host the next round.
In 2002, the USSF expanded the bidding process to include all games of the tournament, in an effort to remove subjectivity from the decision-making process and to help with the costs associated with the competition.
The process evolved slightly since 2002, but for the 2011 US Open Cup, the system for determining home games began with the USSF setting a deadline of May 26 for qualified teams to submit their bids for the first and second rounds.
Part of the bidding process allowed interested teams to declare two different venues (e.g. Seattle Sounders used both Starfire Sports Complex and CenturyLink Field in 2011), and submit an application declaring which venue they plan to use, and answering questions that would help the USSF determine if that venue meets their minimum standards (lights, locker rooms, field size etc.).
In addition to meeting those standards, each team was encouraged, not required, to commit to a financial bid to the federation. Assuming the team’s proposed venue was acceptable, the criteria came down to who wrote the biggest check. The team who bid the most, got to host. While the amounts of the bids were kept a secret, sources told TheCup.us that the amounts range from $500 to as much as $200,000 to host the championship game.
Writing a check isn’t the only option. In fact, according to the Open Cup handbook distributed by the USSF to teams, the proposals can vary.
“The parameters for such proposals are open-ended and may include a financial guarantee to US Soccer, a guarantee plus percentage of the gate, or a percentage of the gate alone,” the 2011 handbook read. “Teams may consider a financial guarantee paid in advance to strengthen their proposal, although this is not a pre-requisite. However, U.S. Soccer will take the absence of a check at the time of submitting a Hosting Proposal into consideration in the selection process.”
The teams submit their checks in advance, but only the winning bids have their checks deposited, with the losing bids getting theirs sent back.
After the Second Round, the stadium standards increase, but the same procedure is followed with USSF setting a deadline in advance, and teams bidding to host the Third Round and the Quarterfinals, and later the Semifinals and the Final.
The heart of the controversy of the bidding process was the lack of transparency. It doesn’t take long to find quotes from team officials criticizing the process, but the situation that received the most attention was a war of words in 2009 between the Seattle Sounders and DC United. After United was chosen to host the 2009 Final, a disappointed Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer took the opportunity to criticize the secret process and to suggest that the defending champions were given favortism over the first-year MLS franchise from Seattle.
“I do still feel like the bidding process could be more transparent and better understood by fans, owners, general managers,” Hanauer told the Seattle Times. “Now, it’s purely financial. I don’t know if that’s the best way to [go], especially if you want a major tournament. There are other ways to do it. You can do a draw, like they do for other major tournaments around the world.”
Hanauer also suggested that the defending champions were given special treatment, but since no one knows the amount that each team bid, DC general manager Kevin Payne felt the cricism was baseless.
“We participated in the process, and we won,” Payne told the Seattle Times. “I was a little offended that because I am on the board of the US Soccer Federation, that my team was shown favoritism.”
If Seattle would have been chosen, the game was going to be played in the afternoon and Payne felt that the prospect of an afternoon broadcast in the middle of the week on Fox Soccer Channel may have played a role in the decision.
Regardless of what happened behind the scenes, the spat between Hanauer and Payne created some extra buzz for the game and may have been the first step toward the changes that came for the 2012 and 2013 tournament. In 2012, the secret bidding process was eliminated and as long as both teams met the federation’s venue standards, then both clubs are entered into a blind draw.