Open Cup: A Proposal to Canales' Laudable Gripe

I think Andrea Canales' frustration with how Major League Soccer (MLS) and the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) have permanently back-burnered the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup has made the rounds by now (seeing as I found it on du Nord, I'm confident that it has).

Taking it as a given, then, that folks have read Canales' piece (if not, here you go), I'll go straight to my proposal for bringing this tournament to (back to? nah) deserved prominence - and if you've heard this one before, please politely sit on your hands:

Make the U.S. Open Cup a short, sharp preseason tournament for MLS - all levels of club soccer in the U.S. really.

That's not to say this will be simple, but I think there's a lot to recommend this. First, this would capture the undivided attention of U.S. soccer fans in the depths of their off-season jones. Second, even if they're players show up fat, between vying for a real trophy and getting ready for the MLS (or USL) season, they'll have ample motivation to shape up fast. And while it would lengthen the season, it would help in the middle with fixture congestion.

The tricky piece to all this will be the qualifying rounds; for instance, do teams qualify for this early spring tournament in the previous season or do they - especially professional and amateur teams from our nation's frozen North - find places to play where they can (in front of, well, nobody)? The tournament finals, on the other hand, would be a breeze: once you get down to the final 16, make it a formal tournament in one venue and make hosting this all-at-once tournament as big of a deal as possible. Getting back to qualifying, I'd lean toward, effectively, bookending the MLS/USL seasons with Open Cup play - the preliminary rounds would happen after the season and, after a winter break, would start up again in the spring.

Anyway, that's what occurs to me. Or you can go with the plan Canales fed Chicago Fire coach Dave Sarachan: make winning the U.S. Open Cup a way into the CONCACAF Champions' Cup, possibly at the expense of the Supporters' Shield (DISCLOSURE: I don't count the Shield for anything personally; you either have the playoffs or you don't; that's just a bias of mine). But I like my idea better - not least because it means more soccer, more often.

ON A RELATED NOTE: Andrea Canales strikes again, this time with a look at the difficulties of moving to a split season with a summer break. The god-awful weather around some of this year's openers, especially, gave MLS honchos serious pause about pushing closer to winter on either end of the calendar. And they've got a point. Going back to the above, though, that's why I'd go with qualifying across the country in the fall and hosting a one-spot tournament in a warmer clime during the spring.

But the most reassursing thing I've read all week came with the signs that MLS Commissioner Don Garber and Co. continue to think about these sorts of things. Here's to hoping the Open Cup doesn't get lost in the shuffle.


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