May Madness. That is what the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup created this past week. A record eight MLS teams were taken down by the likes of the Carolina Railhawks (LA Galaxy), Minnesota Stars FC (RSL), the Michigan Bucks (Chicago Fire), and most improbably Cal FC, who defeated the Portland Timbers 1-0 in extra time. Cal FC is the most amazing of stories. A fifth division team of amateurs and ex pro players all with day jobs and led by MLS founding player and ex-Quake Eric Wynalda. Hollywood could not have scripted it any better.
As I have discussed before (Link to old article that I wrote on US Open http://www.sjearthquakes.com/news/2011/05/kavals-kickoff-improving-us-open-cup), the U.S. Open Cup needs reform to catapult it onto the national sports stage. The great thing is that some of the ideas that I expressed, and which were also sent to me by fans, were implemented this off season. MLS and US Soccer got together and eliminated the play-in matches that just confused the fans and made for poorly contested games. I was really proud of our League and the leadership of U.S. Soccer for implementing these beneficial changes. Also, the non-MLS teams played the MLS clubs earlier this year in the third round. That created a boatload of Cinderella stories like Cal FC. That is the secret sauce for media coverage and story lines that can captivate the casual fan.
While it is nice to see the progress, there are still areas that need improvement. First, the re-seeding after every two rounds makes the tournament difficult to follow. Ideally, this system would be replaced with a single bracket from the get go. That could make for some great office pools, which have always been the lifeblood of the NCAA Basketball tourney. They also should find a fixed location for the championship match instead of the current bidding system where the teams just outbid everyone to gain an advantage. Finally, the U.S. Open Cup needs to be on television. As I sat watching the Timbers vs. Cal FC match last night on the webcast, while monitoring my twitter account that was blowing up with comments, I could not help but think that whatever was on NBC Sports Network or Gol TV or even ESPN2 could not have been as compelling content. Just so you know, NBC Sports was airing Poker After Dark and then Darts.
The best thing about the U.S. Open Cup this year has been that we won a game. For the first time since 2005, the Quakes won a Cup match and advanced to the Round of 16 to take on Minnesota Stars FC at 8:00 p.m. Tuesday, June 5 at Cagan Stadium on the campus of Stanford University. We had a decent crowd of 1271 last match by traditional U.S. Open Cup standards, but I would like to send the word out to Quakes country that we need to sell out Cagan this week. Over the years, I have received numerous complaints from fans about not taking the tournament seriously. This year, we played most of our top players in spite of the limited rest and risk of injury. We are taking this competition seriously and I hope the fans respond with a great showing this coming week.