Dear US Open Cup,
We’ve had some great times together; in fact some of my favorite memories are from going to games in the competition. From things off the field like games at Blue Valley’s District Athletic Complex cheering at people in the mini-golf parking lot telling them to buy tickets, to winning a three-legged halftime race in Parkville after the band holding my partner and I together broke in the first two steps so we basically just ran down the field.
To things on the field like watching Justin Detter score his only goal for the club against Dallas at BVDAC and singing the Notre Dame fight song for him, to more recent memories like the three Open Cups over the last seven years. From following the 2004 final on BigSoccer and match tracker from my college dorm room to being in person through the rain delay to watch the team win the 2012 US Open Cup, the celebration when Daniel Salloi scored what proved to be the winner in the 2017 final at Children’s Mercy Park.
One of my favorite road trip stories from friends is a USOC road trip to Milwaukee where there was a beer tent, a hill to roll down, and KC fans warming up with the referees. I even enjoy the parts of the tournament that don’t involve Sporting Kansas City. I’ve enjoyed this year’s tournament, watching the likes of Florida Soccer Soldiers and Orange County FC make great runs in the tournament. I also am really pleased about the deal with ESPN+ that allows me to watch the games I have watched so far, it’s made the tournament feel more big time.
All that said it might be time for me to take a break from you. It’s not you, it’s me. I’ve grown a little tired of the predictability of the competition once MLS teams enter the competition. Dating back to the 2015 tournament, KC has played 15 games in the tournament, 13 of those games have been against an MLS side. Add this year’s match up against Minnesota United and it’s 14 out of 16. That’s basically 88% of the team’s games in the competition are MLS competition. I fully understand that part of this is due to Kansas City’s success in the tournament as the maximum number of games KC could have played in the tournament over the last four years is 20 games.
But it’s more than that, go back and look at the fact that KC play Minnesota United in their fourth round match up. It’ll be the third time in four years that the two teams have been matched up. The teams were matched up in the 2016 fourth round when Minnesota was in their final NASL season preparing to move to MLS. The teams were again matched up in the 2017 tournament before getting a reprieve in the 2018 tournament, but here we are in the 2019 tournament playing again.
I totally get the regional draw that you put in place for the tournament, it cuts down on travel, on expenses, and it gives the opportunity for fans to travel to games should they choose to travel, I totally get it.
At the same time it’s frustrating to watch KC play the same MLS teams year over year. Over the now 14 games KC has played against MLS competition, they’ve played the Houston Dynamo four of those times, FC Dallas three times, Minnesota twice (the third came when they were still in the NASL), Real Salt Lake twice, and New York Red Bulls, Philadelphia Union, and the San Jose Earthquakes one time.
After a while you just get tired of seeing the same teams play your team over and over. With KC “drawing” Minnesota this year, the two teams will now play three times this year, and will have played 10 times over the past three seasons (eight league games and two Open Cup games) by the end of the 2019 season. With that many matches are you going to get a large group of fans to travel to Minnesota for another midweek game against Minnesota? (Side note to MLS, don’t schedule both match-ups between teams you’re trying to pass off as rivals as midweek games.) Fans just get worn out/fatigued from seeing the same team over and over, especially now as the league has grown more.
It’s not just Kansas City fans who have become frustrated with it either. I’m sure you’ve heard from Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers fans as well. They’ve been matched up together in their fourth round match up for the third time since 2015, the first year MLS teams could be drawn together in the fourth round. The two years Portland wasn’t matched up with Seattle they faced the San Jose Earthquakes in the fourth round. In fact, it’s worse for Portland than it is for KC as they’ve been matched up with an MLS team for each of their last five fourth round match ups in the Open Cup and all nine of their games in the Open Cup since 2015 have been against MLS competition.
You’re a great tournament, you’re a lot of fun, I love the David vs Goliath aspect of it, and wish it got more interest from casual soccer fans, because I think they’d really get behind that aspect of the tournament, the March Madness aspect that can see the little guy knock off the giants. But it’s just not as fun when you know there’s pretty much no chance to have that giant killer moment once the real giants come in. It also takes away from the magic of the competition when you’re regularly playing teams that you already see two times a year in your league play.
Now this is the part of the letter that you probably won’t like, it’s the part where I turn the page from “it’s not you, it’s me” to “it’s you.”
The big thing is I’d like to get some variety of the teams once the MLS teams enter. As I said earlier, KC regularly play one of four teams, Minnesota, Houston, Dallas, or Salt Lake. These are all teams that KC already sees twice a season in league play; it diminishes the importance of those games when it’s an every year match up in the Open Cup. Limiting the number of times you play those teams in competitions outside league play actually enhances those potential rivalries because they become more special. I’m sure Portland and Seattle would say similar about potential Open Cup games between them if they were less frequent.
I’d also have MLS teams enter the tournament earlier and have them match up with teams not in MLS. This will likely have to happen eventually as MLS grows and adds more teams, but it would add some variety to the teams clubs play. Another match up against St. Louis FC for example would probably be greeted with excitement from both sides of the state of Missouri and would guarantee good travel either direction. The two teams haven’t met since the fourth round of the 2015 Open Cup. I’m sure most, if not all, MLS head coaches would be against this idea as it would add another game to their schedule, but in the long run of the tournament would be for the benefit of not just MLS but the other leagues as well.
On the note of MLS entering the tournament earlier and matched up with a lower division side, I’d do something similar to what they do with the Coupe de France. In that tournament, teams two divisions higher than their opponent are automatically drawn on the road for that match up, giving the smaller team a marquee matchup they can market.
For the Open Cup I would suggest that all MLS teams travel for their first game as long as the team they’re playing can/will host the game. It’d be like Sporting going to play St. Louis FC, the Des Moines Menace, the new Omaha USL team, etc., it’d be a marquee matchup for those teams, something for them to market to and would also invite a large number of KC fans to travel to see their team in a new environment that is close to home. It would create a fun atmosphere and a sense of excitement for the lower division teams. If they don’t want to, or can’t host then the MLS team can be drawn as the host, but only after the lower division side has had the right of first refusal.
I know this may not be what you want to hear, I know we’ve had a very good relationship, but the fire isn’t there from me anymore. And let’s be honest, a strong run by Sporting in the tournament and I’ll be back, at least short term. Long term though I’m going to struggle to get over the issues that I have as stated above in my enjoyment of the tournament.
I hope you can look into making some changes to keep myself and others excited, I look forward to continuing to enjoy watching the competition as you do.