US Open Cup Format: Is it for parity?

After reading two articles on how Major League Soccer's (MLS) 12 "American" teams - new boys Toronto FC won't be included 'cause they're Canadian - will qualify for this year's edition of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (um...LHUSOC?), I still wasn't totally clear on what was going on.

Here are those two items, for the record: LINK and LINK.

In basic terms, six of MLS's teams - the New England Revolution, the Chicago Fire, DC United, the Houston Dynamo, FC Dallas, and Chivas USA - qualify automatically and will join the tournament at the third round, which begins July 10. The rub comes with the rest of it: the remaining six teams qualify at some point, but nothing in the LHUSOC schedule explicityly stated "MLS teams that need to qualify will do so here." In another wrinkle, the two remaining teams that did make the playoffs in 2006 - Red Bull New York and the Colorado Rapids - get a "bye" in the qualification process; in other words, the four teams who missed out - Real Salt Lake (sniffle), the Los Angeles Galaxy, the Columbus Crew and the Kansas City Wizards - will play one another in a qualifying round with the winner of each of those games going on to play either Red Bull or Colorado.

A press release that appeared later in the day on clarified the piece that's missing - e.g. when these games will happen, not to mention who will play whom - if only partially. The dates will remain TBD, most likely till MLS figures out its scheduling, but the pairings are in:

Columbus Crew v. Los Angeles Galaxy
Kansas City Wizards v. Real Salt Lake

Colorado will then face the winner of KC v. RSL, while Red Bull gets the winner between the Crew and Galaxy.

The one question left over is why they're doing this. The official word is that the host of tournaments coming this summer - SuperLiga, the Gold Cup, Copa America, etc. - points toward giving MLS teams a break through fewer games. But look at the teams in SuperLiga and compare that to who's automatic for the Third Round. And, if memory serves, haven't MLS teams entered the Open Cup at the third round for the past few years? Assuming that's true, who's getting a break?

By my estimation, the league's weaker teams. I dunno. Maybe the issue started with people in the USSF - or whomever runs the LHUSOC - arguing that all MLS teams should have to qualify. In that case, waiving the need to qualify would bring some relief. Or maybe - just maybe - the thought or hope is that the fixture congestion for the "big teams" will help give the weaker teams competitively by giving them a bit of rest. Maybe that's the angle.

Whatever. It's fun to think about. Very much looking forward to the tournament...even if I suspect huge chunks of it won't be televised.

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