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Kaval's Kickoff: Improving the U.S. Open Cup

The Quakes have their first play in match for the 2011 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup this coming week when the club heads to Portland to take on the Timbers Tuesday evening at JELD-WEN Field. The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup has all the elements to be one of the great sports tournaments here in the United States.

First of all, the tournament is steeped in tradition and has been contested since 1914 when it was known as the National Challenge Cup. It has a really cool prize, the Dewar Trophy, named after the legendary Scottish Whisky distiller. Who wouldn't want a trophy from a Scottish Whisky maker?

Second, the tournament is perfectly suited to create Cinderella stories as any soccer team, amateur or professional, can compete for the Cup. This is right along the lines of VCU's march to the Final Four during the NCAA college basketball tournament. Imagine the little Rochester Raging Rhinos winning the championship against a bunch of MLS teams and all the hoopla and excitement that would create. Well, that is exactly what happened in 1999 when the Rhinos defeated four MLS clubs to win the U.S. Open Cup.

So why has the tournament struggled to gain acceptance and mindshare in the crowed sports scene here in the United States? What do people think can be done to elevate the tournament's stature?

I have some ideas on how to improve the US Open Cup. I am not sure that all of these are practical but I think something must be done to make the event more relevant. I would love to get fans' feedback on other ideas to improve the tournament. As always, you can email me at president@sjearthquakes.com

One thing that really makes it hard for fans and the media to cover the event is that the rules always seem to be changing in terms of who plays who and when. This has been done to try and fit the tournament into an ever crowded association football landscape here in the United States. A schedule and set of rules must be adopted that is simple and the fans and media can get behind.

Another issue is that the Cinderella stories seem to be downplayed or non-existent. Having the non-MLS clubs play MLS clubs earlier in the tournament would help. This could also be regionalized to offer better rivalries and to give the little guys a chance to knock off the bigger teams in their region. This would lead to better local attendance. You could certainly find some entertaining media stories with these types of match-ups.

Eliminating the entire play-in system for MLS clubs would also be good since adding all those extra matches often just results in MLS clubs playing their reserve sides. This discredits the tournament since clubs are not playing to win.

Finally, maybe the final should be at one specific location every year like the college world series in NCAA baseball. I was thinking that your very own Soccer City USA (aka San Jose, Calif.) would be a cool location. This would be a really awesome event to host every year at the new stadium.

The U.S. Open Cup should be an exciting and respected tournament consistent with its history as the oldest association football tournament in the United States. Some modifications can put the tournament back on track to achieving that mission.

The Quakes hope to take our first step towards winning the Cup this week in Portland. Maybe we can equal the famed 1992 San Jose Oaks semi-professional team which won the Cup back in 1992.


Dave Kaval
San Jose Earthquakes


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