Today US Soccer announced their formatting for the 2011 US Open Cup, and even with the NASL not getting any spots in the tournament, MLS still going to have the format as they've had the previous few seasons where only 8 teams from the country's top division qualify for the US Open Cup tournament. Those qualifying games that KC has been playing the past few years are not US Open Cup tournament games, they're qualifiers that are set up by MLS as a way to determine their league's qualifiers for the Open Cup.
KC is likely to have to play 2 games to get themselves into the Open Cup based on their finish last year. With six teams already in the tournament (Columbus Crew, FC Dallas, Los Angeles Galaxy, New York Red Bulls, Real Salt Lake, Seattle Sounders), that leaves 10 teams (Chicago Fire, Chivas USA, Colorado Rapids, D.C. United, Houston Dynamo, New England Revolution, Philadelphia Union, Portland Timbers, San Jose Earthquakes, Sporting Kansas City) fighting for those 2 spots. With their finishes in 2010, it would appear that Portland would play Philadelphia while DC would play Chivas in the first round. In the second round the two winners are likely to play San Jose and Colorado while Chicago will play Houston and KC seems destined to play New England. The winners of those four games would then meet with the two winners qualifying for the Open Cup.
I love this cup, I like the idea, the single elimination, the underdog success feel of seeing the smaller clubs make a run, but my love for the cup wains with how poorly run it is. From the above format that keeps all the teams from the top division out of the tournament proper, to the way they decide hosts for rounds, to the fairly puny cash prize in the larger scheme of things.
My first issue is with the format and the fact that all 16 MLS US based teams do not automatically qualify for the tournament. Instead only half of the teams get into the actual tournament. In a few years, depending on where team 20 goes, less than half the US based teams will qualify for the Open Cup. So how would I change that? This year and next year it would appear fairly simple. Add all 16 US teams into the second round with the 16 winners from the previous round, that's one round earlier than when they're set to enter the tournament this year. This current qualifying process was, in part, designed to help relieve fixture congestion for MLS teams. But in the above format, it actually reduces fixtures compared to the current qualifying format where teams will play 2-3 games to qualify for the tournament.
Second is the way they decide hosts. It's one of those situations where the person with the most toys wins. Or the team that offers the most money in the end will basically be the hosts. The biggest example of this is the past few years' where there has been published reports of the bidding by Seattle, DC and others to host the finals. It's a cash grab by the USSF to see who will give them the most money to host the game. It shouldn't be that way, I'd prefer that it be a blind draw for the hosting. And if a team doesn't want to host for one reason or another they should have the ability to not be selected as hosts, to opt out BEFORE the draw takes place. That last little bit is to avoid situations where a team is selected as host until they find out their opponent isn't an MLS team or other high profile game.
Finally is the $100,000 prize for winning. The USSF paid national team head coach Bob Bradley $600,000 between March of 09 through April of 10, the women's coach Pia Sundhage $219,635. I understand that there are differences in the funds that are allocated, the US national team brings in more money than the US Open Cup, that's understandable. But they've found ways to pay over a million dollars to not just coaches, but also the executives. The USSF couldn't work out a deal or find a way to get one of their big sponsors to step up and be the title sponsor of the tournament? Trying to get a sponsor to step up and be the Open Cup sponsor (possibly tying it in with some other type of sponsorship currently more visible than the Open Cup itself) would be a step towards showing that the USSF actually cares about the tournament.
Along with the sponsorship and raise in prize money would hopefully bring more coverage and better advertising of the tournament by the USSF. I think the biggest way to show their lack of coverage now is to compare the USSF's US Open Cup page, buried a bit on the USSF's website to the "unofficial" US Open Cup page, thecup.us. There's no comparison, what thecup.us lacks in design, it makes up for in content. When I want information on the Open Cup I don't go to the USSF's website, I go to thecup.us because I know they'll have the information. I don't know that about the USSF's page.
I want the US Open Cup to be considered a prestigious cup, I want it to grow and be a big event. I know it'll never be on the level of what the FA Cup is now (even if it is a bit watered down compared to what it was) probably. But it'd be nice to see it get more respect and seen as a serious competition, not just by the teams and fans, but by the USSF itself.