Friday, May 30, 2008

The US Open Cup exists, it's here, and I'm going to explain it to you.

There are many mysteries in the world: who built Stonehenge? Where did Jimmy Hoffa go? How did Crash win an Oscar?

Another mystery of equal proportion is why no one cares, or even knows, about the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.

It’s sad and quite telling when wikipedia is the best source of information about the competition. Therefore a finger can be pointed to the US Soccer Federation (USSF) and their inexplicable disregard of the event in favor of the US Men’s (and Women’s) National Team. Another can be attributed to MLS taking its own title way too seriously, to the point where any other competition is meaningless (e.g. CONCACAF Champions Cup, SuperLiga, this cup). Lastly, ESPN, FSC, and the other networks can be faulted for never providing any news about or highlights of it. Even the cup's website has the incorrect date in the press release (hint: look at the first line).

So subsequently there is little fan interest in the event. And this is a total shame because it’s the second oldest competition behind Lord Stanley’s Cup. Additionally, clubs of all levels can compete in it, a la the FA Cup. So pub teams can face MLS, USL-1, USL-2, and youth academy’s – competition at its finest. And although I, and others, have documented the waning of the FA Cup (add link) it is still unique and quite novel.

Well, I feel like the silence needs to be broken. With the first-round draw announced Wednesday, I will try my best to cover it. Luckily the local club Crystal Palace USA is competing in it, so I will try my best to attend a match (although I PRAY the tickets are cheaper -- $16 for a USL-2 game is inexcusable).

This year the qualifying is a little different (but not like anyone knew of its former format anyway), but still quite muddled. Eight MLS clubs enter (like the EPL in the FA Cup) in the third round, six automatically qualify based on their 2007 season standings. That means Chivas USA, DC United, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, New England, and the NYRB are in. Thus the remaining clubs have a seven team playoff. So far San Jose, the LA Galaxy, and Real Salt Lake have all been booted, and the next round is June 4.

The lower tiers however all vie for placing in the first round, which starts June 10.

All American USL-1 teams (8) automatically qualify, because FIFA and USSF rules prohibit Vancouver, Montreal, and Puerto Rico's participation as they are from Canada and, well, Puerto Rico.

Defending USL-2 regular season champions Richmond Kickers, and playoff champions Harrisburg City Islanders both automatically qualify. Thus, of the seven remaining America-based USL-2 squads, six qualify via regular season matches, so bottom dwellers Wilmington Hammerheads wont be participating. So in total, eight clubs are placed.

The same criteria goes for the USL Premier Development League (PDL), but each conference has its own qualification procedures: the Eastern and Central Conference(s) advance two teams, while the Mid-South, Southeast, Northwest, and Southwest Division(s) place just one. Again, the magic number is eight.

Lastly, the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA) places – you guessed it! – eight clubs in the cup. Like the PDL, each region does its own version of qualification. Region I (the northeast) and Region II (Midwest) have playoffs. Region III (the south) and Region IV (the southwest and SoCal) have group stages. The autonomous National Premier Soccer League (a fourth-tier league) qualifies through the USASA.

Therefore, without much ado below is the first round draw, which starts June 10:

Carolina RailHawks (USL-1) vs. Brooklyn Knights (PDL)
Real Maryland Monarchs (USL–2) vs. New York Pancyprian-Freedoms (USASA) Richmond Kickers (USL-2) vs. Fredericksburg Gunners (PDL)
Western Mass Pioneers (USL-2) vs. Boston Olympiakos (USASA)

AAC Eagles (USASA) vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds (USL-2)
Michigan Bucks (PDL) vs. Cleveland City Stars (USL-1)
Minnesota Thunder (USL-1) vs. St. Louis Lions (USL-1)
Rochester Rhinos (USL-1) vs. RWB Adria (USASA)
Austin Aztex U23 (PDL) vs. Atlanta Silverbacks (USL-1)

Charleston Battery (USL-1) vs. ASC New Stars (USASA)

Charlotte Eagles (USL-2) vs. Clearwater Galactics (USASA)

Miami FC (USL-1) vs. Brandenton Academics (PDL)

Arizona Sahuaros (USASA) vs. Seattle Sounders (USL-1)

Harrisburg City Islanders (USL-2) vs. Yakima Reds (PDL)
Los Angeles Legends (PDL) vs. Crystal Palace USA (USL-2)

Portland Timbers (USL-1) vs. Hollywood United (USASA)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

New homes next season

Leases usually begin June 1st. I have no idea why that is, but it's a common housing practice.

For English football clubs that were bottom of their respected table, they were evicted over two weeks ago when the season ended. For those who clinched automatic promotion or won their respected playoff final this past weekend, they moved to greener pastures. Here's a breakdown of all the movers and shakers:

Premier League
IN: West Bromwich Albion, Stoke City, Hull City
OUT: Reading, Birmingham City, Derby County

Of the three promoted teams, only West Brom have any prayer of surviving. Stoke and Hull's promotion are nice stories (Stoke not being in the top-flight in twenty-three years, Hull never in their 104-year history), but their arcane tactics and lack of class will spell doom: just look at Derby this season. The relegated teams, provided they can keep their respected core players, should bounce back up. If everyone chooses to jump ship, hire bad coaches, etc etc, then they'll be stuck in the quagmire like Charlton and Sheffield United.

Coca-Coca Championship
IN: Swansea City, Nottingham Forest, Doncaster Rovers
OUT: Leicester City, Scunthorpe United, Colchester United

Next season marks the return of once-great Nottingham Forest, as with 'the other' Welsh side Swansea City. Leeds, thankfully, won't be bouncing back up after a loss to Doncaster in the playoffs. The relegations of Colchester and Scunthorpe came as no surprise, but the collapse of millionaire madman Milan Mandaric's Leicester City raised many eyebrows. And if his hands-on approach (i.e. firing coaches every other week) continues, don't expect the Foxes to bounce back up.

League One
IN: MK Dons, Peterborough, Hereford United, Stockport County
OUT: Bournemouth, Gillingham, Port Vale, Luton

The club -- excuse me, franchise --  everyone loves to hate won both the League Two title and the Johnstone's Paint Trophy. Joining them in League One next season is Hereford who will be in the third tier for the first time in thirty years. And yes, they are named after the cows. Dropping down are numerous anonymous clubs with the exception of Luton, who may not be in existence next season due to countless "financial irregularities." Poor Hatters...

League Two
IN: Aldershot, Cambridge United
OUT: Mansfield, Wrexham

If anyone knows about any of these clubs, do add them in the comments section -- I got nothing.

Monday, May 26, 2008

As the World Turns...

Back in November, on Thanksgiving, you may have watched Stockport County take on Staines Town in the First Round of the FA Cup. And from that match you may recall the non-league side upsetting the League Two side 4-3 on penalties. For a club that finished 4th the year prior, and was tipped for automatic promotion, a loss to Ali G's club was a total embarrassment -- one that could ruin a season.

Well, fast forward six months to today where Stockport County defeated Rochdale 3-2 in the League Two promotion playoffs. Now out of the basement of the Football League, Stockport will compete in League One next season.

And perhaps promotion to the Championship next season will be helped by on a cup loss to Kidderminster Harriers F.C. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Coca-Cola Playoffs

After an exciting final day of play, the Coca-Cola Championship's regular season gives way to the playoffs. And this year, unlike last, its a total crap-shoot. Here's what I see:

(home in bold)

Hull vs. Watford
Hull City is attempting to be in the top-flight for the first time in their history. Watford have backed into the playoffs, twiddling immensely down the stretch. Interestingly enough, had Wolves' defender Neil Collins not fouled Steve Kabba (and Marlon King subsequently scoring from the spot and winning the match) on opening day, then it probably would have been Wolves' in the playoffs, not Watford. I like Hull.

Bristol City vs. Crystal Palace
This season Bristol City managed to hoodwink opponents into defeat, ending the season with an inexplicable +1 GD. Crystal Palace --excuse me, Neil Warnock -- have gone from relegation fodder twice (in October and February) to gain 25 out of a potential 36 points. That type of momentum is unstoppable. Expect them to advance.