Why Isn’t The US Open Cup A Big Deal?


Tim Hall’s View From 101

With a 4-2 win over New England Revolution on a hot Tuesday night in Frisco, Texas, FC Dallas claimed the 2016 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. The Open Cup, now having completed its 103rd edition, resides in a very strange place within a sport and culture in America that itself has an odd place all its own; the USOC is a dark corner of the creepiest room of an abandoned insane asylum. It is a relic that everyone loves but nobody cares about. The monument nobody visits, yet everyone protests the plans to knock it down and build something useful there. It gently nestles into a spot where it can serve as everything to everyone and nothing to anybody.

For example, it has been asked by more than one immigrant to American shores why, oh why, doesn’t American soccer have something equivalent to the FA Cup or similar challenge cups all over the world? When they are told that we do have such a competition and, depending on how one wishes to do math, it may in fact be older than the FA Cup, the inevitable follow-up question is “Well, why doesn’t anyone know about it, why isn’t it a big deal?”

To which the correct response is to remind them that, as best as anyone can tell, the FA Cup hasn’t been a big deal in about thirty years either.

Of course this conversation also allows our friend the American Soccer Snob to puff out their chest and attempt to prove their superiority as a way to ingratiate themselves to their European cousins. They will tell you that, of course they know all too well how special the Open Cup is, in fact it is the only soccer they will descend from the mountaintops to watch, and they do their very best to promote it, but the mouthbreathers that populate American soccer culture are not civilized enough to grasp the lofty concepts of the magic and allure of cup competition.

At which point, provided your prayers for a meteor strike have gone unanswered, a devotee of the Cult of the Open American Soccer Pyramid will turn up like a bad penny. They will use this opportunity to try to make some tenuous connection between the US Open Cup and the absolute need for promotion and relegation in American soccer, because their singular goal in life is to  make tenuous connections between anything and pro/rel. Stand in front of one of these zealots long enough without jamming a ballpoint pen into your ear until it finds purchase in the spongy grey matter of your brain and they will try to convince you that John Hinckley attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan because Jodie Foster was such a proponent of the purity of plumbers playing football.

In any event, the open pyramid crowd will take great delight in claiming that the Open Cup is the greatest thing ever because it gives lower division clubs exposure and shows they deserve to compete for the higher tiers, but also that the tournament is awful because those clubs can’t climb the ladder and receive the funds they need to actually compete against the big boys. You’ll notice this is circular logic at best and designed to entrap people into an endless argument without escape, which is exactly what they want.

Even if the alt-right of the American soccer world got everything they wanted from US Soccer tonight, that would just give them until sunrise tomorrow to draft new complaints.

Speaking of US Soccer, their own history with what should be their marquee club tournament is at best troubled. Until far, far too recently this grand old tournament did not have a presence on social media and record keeping and history tracking was done on an ad hoc basis by enthusiasts, which is odd for an organization that will cannot move quick enough to remind you of one game in 1950 and will shut down for a month once Walter Bahr shuffles off this mortal coil. To their credit, however, US Soccer has stepped up their game in the last handful of years and managed to place the USOC final televised on channels some Americans actually get. Believe it or not, this is a marked improvement.

Although, maybe US Soccer just did all that to shut us up for a while, because USSF president and visible face of the American soccer establishment Sunil Gulati could not be bothered to make the trip to Texas for this prestigious affair, leaving the presentation of the greatest, most magical prize in American club soccer to a man in a suit.

For the victorious FC Dallas, it was the end to an almost unimaginable run of futility, a drought lasting almost as long as the state of Texas itself has been in an actual drought: nineteen whole years. The mind reels at the thought of how they even justified continuing the team after the first ten, but they soldiered on mightily, not wishing to disappoint any of the high school students who had never with their own eyes seen Dallas soccer silverware.

As for the vanquished New England Revolution, even though they left without a trophy, their fans did get something they wanted, deep down. They still get to whisper about hexes and curses while simultaneously plotting to throw their head coach into Boston Harbor. And regardless of the outcome, they would always be powered by their absolute hatred of an owner who will not invest in the team in any meaningful way, certainly not enough to move them out of the NFL monolith they currently call home and into a stadium more suitable for soccer.

The rest of us, the neutrals, the disinterested, the ones who forgot there was a game on until they saw people on Twitter talking about it, the women’s basketball fans who forgot to change the channel, well, we got to watch a fun and open cup final with wonder goals and plenty of intrigue. Not too shabby for a Tuesday night. And next year, around this time, we’ll all reconvene and do it all again, and none of us – outside of Dallas and possibly New England – will remember who won the US Open Cup the year before. And we’ll ask why the Open Cup isn’t a bigger deal.

After all, it has a little something for everyone.

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david@firsttouchonline.com