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)