Travel costs are a barrier for many US Open Cup qualifying teams, now USSF is offering help

Posted by | October 21, 2017
The US Soccer Federation will provide some financial assistance to cover the cost of flights for amateur teams that have to make a trip longer than a six-hour drive for a US Open Cup qualifying match. Photo: Richard Eriksson - Flickr

The US Soccer Federation will provide some financial assistance to cover the cost of flights for amateur teams that have to make a trip longer than a six-hour drive for a US Open Cup qualifying match. Photo: Richard Eriksson – Flickr

There has not been an open division amateur club from Oregon qualify for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup since 1992. So the International Portland Select (now operating under the name of IPS/Marathon Taverna) set out to change that in 2015. The club entered the newly-formed Open Division qualifying tournament with hopes of representing their state in the country’s oldest cup competition.

After getting a free pass into the Second Round because a team couldn’t afford the trek to Portland from Kansas City, they drew a team in Texas for their next match. The cost of flying a whole team roughly 2,000 miles to Dallas was too much for IPS so they withdrew from the competition.

After losing their opening game last year at home, they are back for the 2018 qualifying tournament. This weekend, IPS are prepared for another expensive and lengthy trip for a Round 2 qualifier in Colorado to take on Indios Denver FC. However, due to a recently-approved policy change, IPS, and other teams like them, will have some help.

MORE: 2018 US Open Cup qualifying Round 1 review, Round 2 schedule

For the first time, the US Soccer Federation will offer financial assistance to clubs in the open division amateur qualifying tournament who have to make road trips longer than six hours. Teams won’t find this information in the 2018 qualifying handbook because this new policy was approved after it was released. The three clubs that qualified for what the federation describes as a “partial airfare subsidy” were offered $200 per airline ticket after the team covers the first $100. According to the USSF, any airline ticket that exceeds the $300 will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

This is clearly an effort to help out amateur clubs that don’t have large budgets and to minimize the number of teams who are forced to forfeit. There have been 15 games forfeited over the last three years, and travel burdens are a big reason for that.

For this weekend’s Second Round, three teams qualified for the travel subsidies: IPS Marathon Taverna (Portland, Ore. to Denver, Colo.), Stegman’s SC (Minneapolis, Minn. to Mooseheart, Ill.) and Ann Arbor FC (Ann Arbor, Mich. to Rochester, N.Y.). Unfortunately, Ann Arbor FC recently confirmed that they are unable to make their trip to Western New York due to a lack of player availability so they forfeited their match.

For those two remaining clubs, those lengthy road trips would have been a major blow to their limited budgets.

Stegman's Soccer Club logo“The financial burden is significant to a team like ours regardless of whether we’re drawn away and have to travel or to host and need to find a suitable venue for the match,” said Nick Sindt, one of the founding members of Stegman’s SC. “Obviously hosting allows us to offset some of the burden by ticket sales, but there’s never a guarantee that we’d recoup all of our expenses.”

Teams like IPS and Stegman’s SC (which is affiliated with the supporter-owned Minneapolis City SC of the NPSL), stuggle with the fact that historically very few teams near them sign up for Open Cup qualifying. In the Modern Era, only three amateur clubs from the Land of 10,000 Lakes that have registered for the open division qualifying tournament. This means that if they have to travel, they are surrounded by states that rarely enter multiple teams into the tournament. North and South Dakota have never entered the tournament, the only Iowa team to enter has been affiliated with the Des Moines Menace (no entry since 2014), and Wisconsin hasn’t had a team participate in the tournament since 2015.

For IPS, it’s even worse, as the states of Oregon and Washington have a history of not entering the qualifying tournament, with only a handful of Cascadia teams signing up since 1995.

International Portland Select / Marathon Taverna logoWhen teams like IPS are located so far away, it’s just as difficult for teams to travel to them as it is for them to travel. In 2015, the Kansas City Athletics claimed that a trip to Portland — nearly 1,800 miles by car — would have ruined the club financially.

Once the Athletics forfeited, IPS were facing an even longer trip for their Round 2 match against the North Texas Rayados. A drive from Portland to Dallas is roughly 2,000 miles, so it would require flying. The cost of flying a soccer team and coaches, combined with transportation when they arrive, meals and a hotel stay becomes an expensive operation. Too much for IPS to handle, so they announced that they would have to forfeit.

Stegman’s SC explored their travel options thanks to the work of Minneapolis City’s business director Sarah Schreier, and they have decided to travel by bus from Minneapolis to Mooseheart, Ill., which is located about an hour’s drive west of Chicago. According to Schreier, they chose to travel by bus because it was more efficient, both financially and logistically, to drive directly to Mooseheart, rather than flying to Chicago and then paying for transportation for the entire team to drive about an hour to their destination. (Not to mention the potential traffic issues of getting out to Chicago’s western suburbs)

Schreier says the total cost of the trip is roughly $5,500 – $6,000, which is a lot for an amateur club, even for a club like Minneapolis City (which is the part of Stegman’s SC organization) that enjoys some impressive fan support. The amount of money they will receive from the USSF is unclear at this point. The federation’s travel subsidy plan did not initially include the prospect of a team choosing to drive, so Schreier says they are in discussions with the USSF to determine how much assistance they will receive.

While IPS was unable to provide their travel expenses prior to this story being published, one can expect that flying a team from Portland to Denver is more costly than traveling from Minneapolis to Mooseheart.

The USSF’s open division qualifying tournament for the US Open Cup is in its third year and still faces challenges and growing pains. The goal, one can assume, is to minimize the number of forfeited games. There will always be player availability issues, or teams that will fail to register players properly, but educating the teams in advance on what is required, both logistically and financially, could go a long way to reaching that goal. Now, with the federation offering financial assistance for teams forced to make lengthy trips, this should help remove some barriers for some teams to compete in the country’s oldest cup competition.

“I think the new policy is great for all of the teams who aren’t professional clubs,” said Sindt. “The majority of clubs in our position, or in the lower levels of the US Soccer pyramid, are run without significant outside investment and therefore exist on shoestring budgets. Having money available from the federation to mitigate the travel costs keeps teams and clubs like us from mortgaging our future for a chance to compete, which should then see more teams able to enter in the future and hopefully fewer and shorter trips all around.”