State of the US Open Cup: After 97 years, is the tournament finally starting to arrive?

Posted by | November 6, 2010

Photo: Jane Gershovich | Prost Amerika Soccer

Writing editorials is not my thing. I tend to keep the material on TheCup.us to strictly reporting and keeping people informed about the tournament (someone has to) but I thought it was appropriate to write a kind of, “State of the Open Cup” piece. This is not the umpteenth “how to fix the open cup” article (although I have a couple suggestions), or a list of complaints (I think most of us are aware of the competition’s shortcomings) — but rather a statement of where I think we are.

The US Open Cup has a long history but 2010 might have proven that it has an even better future. The competition has admittedly gone through some stages of near dormancy, but as of 2010, it seems to be stronger than ever but still has a very long way to go.

The record crowd of over 30,000 at this year’s final in Seattle testified to a great degree of interest in that soccer-mad town and proved that with proper marketing, the competition can appeal to the soccer fans of this country. It is probably only fair to give due credit to the marketing folks in the Sounders front office who apparently threw all the skills and resources they could muster at selling tickets for the final and promoting their tournament games.

It has to be said that the City of Seattle and Sounders FC are at the forefront of this revival in the cup’s fortunes, and those of us who follow the tournament closely hope that this level of excitement isn’t limited to just the Emerald City. Since the Sounders entered MLS, they have won the Cup twice (2009, 2010), and prior to joining the league, the USL franchise of the same name earned back-to-back semifinal appearances in 2007 and 2008. The question becomes, was this purely a Seattle thing or does it take four straight semifinal appearances and a couple of championships to reach this level of enthusiasm and interest?

We won’t know if the crowds in Seattle got the attention of the casual soccer fan until next year’s tournament, but I would like to think that four-digit attendances for the championship game are a thing of the past. However, in reality, as long as the title game continues to be held midweek, that will continue to be an issue.

Feurstein’s Fire
Another independent media outlet who did a great job of covering the US Open Cup is Daniel Feurstein’s podcast “Feurstein’s Fire.” Daniel provided fans throughout the tournament with previews and recaps of each round and interviews with the players and coaches involved with the competition.
Check out Feurstein’s Fire’s podcast archive

The only thing fans of the US Open Cup can hope is that the pro teams in this country, and most of all the United States Soccer Federation, were taking notes of Seattle’s marketing efforts. Will we see 30,000 on a Tuesday night for next year’s final at a non-Seattle venue next year? I hope so. But one game does not a tournament make. MLS, with their greater resources, should not be getting outdrawn by PDL teams in early round games. Sure, it’s hard to get MLS fans to get out to support their team against a lower division club they’ve never heard of. If that’s the case, maybe lower division teams, for the good of the tournament, need to get preference in hosting games? (The flawed bidding process is a whole other monster)

The fact that there are soccer fans in this country who are unaware of this tournament is really the biggest tragedy. Is it that hard to ‘sell’ a tournament like this? Whenever I am interviewed about the Open Cup, the most popular question is, “How can the US Open Cup become more popular?” I believe the answer is simple. Tell the fans about it. Hell, I don’t even have trouble selling the tournament to non-soccer fans. I’ve had co-workers at my full-time job ask about the website that I run, and I tell them about the tournament. I usually put it in baseball terms and that does the trick. “Imagine if the Lansing Lugnuts (or insert any local minor league baseball team, or you can even use the local beer league team as an example) had a chance to play against the New York Yankees in a single elimination, March Madness-style tournament.” Sold.

But there are reasons for optimism.

We can point to the growing number of visitors to TheCup.us, and our social media accounts like Twitter (@USOpenCup – which, as of writing this, has over 2,400 followers) and Facebook which have seen increased numbers. Which is impressive considering we don’t have an advertising budget (or any kind of budget), so people are seeking out the tournament on their own.

The increase in viewers is also impressive considering the history section still hasn’t been fully moved over from the old USOpenCup.com website (USOpenCup.com now points to USSoccer.com — here’s the reason why, in case you missed it). This delay is due, in large part, to the fact that very few people work on this website, and all of our available time was making sure we covered the 2010 tournament. Real life gets in the way sometimes.

ProstAmerika.com US Open Cup coverage
Prost Amerika not only produced a tremendous, accurate and fair match report at the Final but they preceded it with the best build up coverage with a strong 25 minute interview with a Crew broadcaster Neil Sika, exclusive interviews with Sounders players, top quality photographs including the most comprehensive Cup Final gallery, and then a follow up interview with Player of the Tournament Nate Jaqua. The site also covered earlier rounds, traveling to matches not involving the Sounders to provide comprehensive coverage to clubs such as the Kitsap Pumas and both Portland Timbers games.

Jaqua: My Cup Award is a Testament to the Team’s Success

US Open Cup Final Gallery

Nate Jaqua’s 2010 US Open Cup in Pictures

Nate Jaqua – TheCup.us Player of the Tournament

Lamarvellous – Sounders Night of Cup Glory Watched by Record Crowd

Radio Sounders Show: Open Cup Celebration Special

How the Cup Was Won

Prost Amerika Soccer Sounders Cup Final Player Ratings

Sounders Reactions

Levesque: Having the energy in the stadium pulled us through

Ianni – This I’ll definitely never forget. It’s unbelievable

How the Cup was Lost – the Crew Viewpoint

Prost Amerika Soccer Columbus Crew Player Ratings

Columbus Crew Reactions

Preview Show with Neil Sika, play-by-play announcer of the Columbus Crew

The goal for this off-season is to get most of it posted on the site before the 2011 tournament begins next Spring. Certainly, if you are passionate about the tournament and would like to contribute, we would love to hear from you. (EMAIL HERE)

Another reason for optimism is the press coverage that continues to improve with each passing year. The success of the Sounders, we saw a huge spike in interest out West, where there was unprecedented coverage in quantity as well as quality.

One of the websites that caught my eye was ProstAmerika.com, which is based in Seattle, but isn’t just a Sounders website. They certainly give the home team tremendous coverage, but they strive for impartiality in their work rather than reflecting a home team bias, all the while providing league-wide and local soccer coverage.

Since I wasn’t able to make the trip from Michigan to Seattle for the championship game, I needed someone to cover the final for me, so I contacted Prost Amerika editor and fellow North American Soccer Reporters member, Steve Clare, to write our Cup Final match report.

(Fun fact: As sad as it may be, it’s true … the guy who runs TheCup.us hasn’t been to an Open Cup Final since 2002 in Columbus)

The quality of his match reports is already recognized in Seattle, having won the Emerald City Supporters award for Sounders Match Report of the Year every year since the inception of the award beating out the mainstream press and the club itself. The site was covering the Open Cup the way it was meant to be covered, and after a well-written match report and other post-game coverage, we hope to work together with Prost Amerika in the future.

So the competition, one of the oldest in world soccer, begins qualification for the 2011 tournament this month. The Wisconsin state qualifier, unfortunately, only had one entry so Bavarian SC has punched their ticket to the Region II tournament.

The television rights for the tournament are up in the air for 2011, which could play a big role in the promotion of the Open Cup. Hopefully wherever it lands, it will include more than just the final. Anyone who follows the Cup, or any knockout competition, knows that the best drama happens in the early rounds.

There’s a lot to fix, we all know that. But if 31,311 can get together to watch an Open Cup game on a Tuesday night, maybe there’s some reason for optimism.

6 Comments

  • Jason Evans says:

    my hopw is that this tourney does get more coverage. It just makes sense from a marketing point of view. To have two championships to choose from should make a pro-club drool. I live in Denver. Yes we just won the MLS cup. But our coach just last year was talking about “getting more silver.” Adding trophy’s to our collection. That includes the US Open cup! It’s like college basketball. Not every team can make the final four. But you CAN WIN THE Maui classic, or the Great Alaska Shoot-out! That increases the prestige of the team.

  • fanforlife says:

    There’s nothing like the early round games at Starfire; being packed in together in an intimate setting right on top of the field and every game is like a playoff game. Yes, move the Open Cup Final to the weekend! Now that PDX is MLS, we’ll just have to eliminate them in the later rounds.

  • Tyler Walter says:

    It was great to see such a large crowd upwards of 31,000 go to Qwest to watch the U.S. Open Cup, a tournament that MLS just doesn’t give any glamour. Instead they rely on the tacky, rather corny MLS Cup Playoffs. It’s understandable. The nation likes playoffs and likes nothing except playoffs.

    One day, I hope the U.S. Open Cup becomes the replacement to the MLS Cup. Perhaps at the rate it’s going, with 17K going to the 2009 USOC final and now 31K going to the 2010 USOC final…it’s not too far off.

  • boca Sounders says:

    I hope they eventually change the US Open Cup so that

    Round 1
    8 teams each from the following
    USSASA (Amateur club teams): 8
    NSSL (North Star Soccer League USSF Div 4): 8
    NPSL (National Premier Soccer League USSF Div 4): 8
    PDL (Premier development League USSF Div 4): 8
    That’s 16 games in round 1

    Round 2
    Round 1 winners 16 teams
    USL Pro (USSF Div 3): 11
    NASL (USSF Div 2): 5
    That’s another 16 games in round 2

    Round 3
    Round 2 winners 16 teams
    MLS (USSF Div 1): 16
    16 games in round 3

    Round 4
    Round 3 winners play each other 8 teams Quarterfinal

    Round 5
    Round 4 winner play each other Semifinal

    Round 6
    Round 5 winners play each other Championship

    In this way the Maximum any MLS team has to be in the US Open cup is 4 games.

    In 2010 there was an MLS playin round which could have seen an MLS team add 3 games to its schedule then play another 4 games to get to the championship that was a possible 7 games added to the schedule. The US Open Cup needs to change and make more sense for the participants and the fans.

  • boca Sounders says:

    Ooopps miscount add antoher round between 3 and 4

  • Tyler Walter says:

    Also a fun fact, the USOC Final attendance was higher than the MLS Cup Final attendance, by 10,000 (on paper). Really it was probably by 15-20,000.

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