US Open Cup: TV or Not TV
By Simon Allen
Philadelphia, Pa. The Ukrainian Nationals of Philadelphia won the first game of the United States soccer championships from the Los Angeles Armenians, Sunday when the game was forfeited because a player punched an official as the home team led 1-0, with five minutes left to play in overtime. The two meet again in Los Angeles.
Inside left, Mike Noha scored from seven yards out with five minutes left. Moments later the game was forfeited to the Ukrainians when an Armenian player, ordered from the field, refused to leave and then struck the referee.
Now that! ladies and gentlemen is a brilliant US Open Cup match. But unfortunately, I can’t interview any of the players or spectators from that match because it was from June 2nd 1963. America’s BIGGEST soccer match...the FINAL (not just any old match) was between the Philly Ukrainians (one of the best teams in the East Coast) and the Los Angeles Armenians (The best team in the West.)
Legend has it that The LA Armenians were losing by just one goal when one of their blokes gets ejected. He doesn’t want to leave the pitch so instead...he punches the referee in the nose. At least that’s what the UPI reporter wrote the day after it happened. Don’t you wish you were there?
The ref at that match was a was a chap by the name of Ray Kraft...and the game was the Final...there was no second leg as the UPI writer had reported. Six years later the LA Armenians (calling themselves the Montebello Armenians- they changed their name to shed their “rough” image) got to the final again. They lost to the NY Greek-Americans from Astoria 1-0.
Of course, I can make anything up at his point regarding that Final. I can say that Elvis was the linesman and that at half time, Flying Saucers landed on the pitch and aliens handed out space cookies to all the fans...who weren’t impressed because they had a similar taste and texture to Clark Bars. In 1963, it was the 50th anniversary of the USSFA’s annual open soccer championship and I’m guessing 500 people showed up to watch it. Maybe a 1000. 2000? I don’t know. I’m guessing because I can’t find the exact number anywhere.
Fast forward to the 21st of May’s match. 2013. The Portland Timbers U-23, a PDL side lost to The Charleston Battery of the USL 1-0. Reading the online accounts I cannot find out the official attendance for the match. One observer at the match told me it was “500 fans...tops!” Another told me “...maybe 200...” And to be honest I don’t think it was as exciting as the reporters claim it was. And I’m not picking on Soccer mad Cascadia. The second round of the US Open Cup is standard fare for soccer fans. The Lower level teams got beat by the Higher level teams which were really just waiting to get to the third round to face MLS teams. There’s always an upset or two though. This year it was the Ocean City Nor’easters who beat the USL Riverhounds in front of 551 people...and Reading United AC beat Harrisburg City Islanders...and Des Moines Menace beat Minnesota United FC in front of 1000 fans. I’m using “upset” lightly because there isn’t much of a difference between squads. It’s in the third round where the upsets have true meaning.
Last year had the “best upset” in USOC history. CalFC of the USASA beating Portland Timbers. An MLS team being beaten by an amateur squad was stuff of legend. It overshadowed the previous “best upset” which was back in 2006 when Dallas Roma FC of the North Texas Premier Soccer Organization beat MLS team, Chivas USA. That match was played in front of 2,127 spectators in Santa Barbara, California and I’m betting that a few people kicked themselves for not going to that one. I’m sure there was an upset or two in the 70’s but it wouldn’t have involved any old NASL teams as they didn’t compete in the US Open Cup.
That’s really the problem with the US Open Cup. No one really bothers with it until the third round. (If at all) And even then it’s not that many people. In 2012, more people watched the Quarterfinal match between Dayton Dutch Lions Vs Sporting Kansas City than both the Semi final matches combined. Perhaps there isn’t much going on midweek in Kansas City compared to LA or NY and soccer fans have less choices.
For clubs that participate, there is some financial gain from doing well in the Open Cup. The Winners will receive $250,000.00 and the runners up will pocket $60,0000.00. There’s also a monetary benefit for lower league teams that aren’t really expected to win the whole kit ‘n’ caboodle. The team that advances the most from each lower division will pocket $15,000.00. On the 29th of May, The Galaxy will travel to North Carolina to meet the Railhawks. LA will try to avenge last years loss to the Railhawks but I’m sure not too many folks in Los Angeles will actually be watching the match. It may just be the highlight of the Railhawks season but one would imagine that US Open Cup takes a back seat to MLS Cup at a club looking to three-peat and set up a soccer dynasty. Even Bruce Arena came out and said that he wasn’t all too thrilled about flying cross country to play. I can’t say I blame him. Most coaches have bigger fish to fry. Realistically, if an MLS team wins the US Open Cup, it’s always a lesser achievement than winning MLS Cup. Sigi Schmidt has won a good number of US Open Cups and it’s great...but when the Trophy Cabinet doesn’t have an MLS Cup, folks in Seattle tend to get impatient.
US Open Cup has no pageantry or romance. Put it on a list with MLS Cup, The Supporters Shield, CONCACAF Champions League and Whatever Regional Rivalry Cup the team fights for and I’m almost sure that fans would put it dead last in what they want their club to achieve in the present years campaign. US Open Cup needs some improving, perhaps even an overhaul to make it relevant and get people to take it seriously and actually attend the matches.
This whole idea of having rounds where MLS squads come in later does nothing for the competition. You want excitement then get rid of that! All the clubs involved would go into a hat and picked out one by one regardless of which league they play in. So if Dearborn Stars got selected to play The Los Angeles Galaxy in the first round. So be it. MLS would expand it’s footprint to areas of America where MLS will never reach. It could send out its B squads or academy players and focus the senior teams efforts on the League if it wanted to. Ideally it would be great for the Top players in America to show up to places like Des Moines, Iowa or Conyers, Georgia and really show fans of top tier football what top tier football actually looks like. If top tier teams did send out their academy players and lost then that would be a brilliant story. And if last years finalists, Sporting KC and Seattle Sounders were chosen in the first round. Even better. There would be one top flight that went home in the first round. A story that would echo in the football world. There would be a huge buzz. Suddenly folks from the USL and new NASL would up their chances at getting to the Finals-one less MLS team to deal with. After the first round was done. All the names would go back into the hat and the process would start all over again.
Doing it this way could also be a bit of a payday for lower league and amateur teams. If by chance the Madison 56ers were drawn with NY Redbull. The match would be played in the lower levels home field. Breese Stevens Field to be exact. Capacity-5000. I’m not too sure what folks do in Madison, Wisconsin on a Wednesday night. Perhaps watch amateur baseball with the Madison Mallards or hit the Washburn Observatory. But I’m betting all 5000 seats could be filled if Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry showed up to play against their local soccer team.
Around US Open Cup time you will probably read blogs with titles like Do you Care About US Open Cup? Let me answer that question to save you the headache. “No!” Okay I shouldn’t say no because I’ve said this before that I would pay 5 bucks to watch Eric Wynalda and Alexi Lalas play keepy-uppy in the parking lot of Home Depot Center, but that’s just me. Most folks don’t care about USOC because it’s one more ticket they have to purchase that they don’t really have to. $10 is relatively cheap to watch soccer but to really get folks to come in and make it a true spectacle, price it at $4.95. Clubs should consider USOC the “gateway drug” to soccer fans on the edge of making a commitment. USOC should be treated as a loss leader. Get folks hooked on your brand of soccer through USOC matches and offer them tickets to regular season matches while they’re there. If the product on the pitch is as it should be, there should be no reason for the not-yet fans of the franchise to become casual or hard-core fans. I remember buying tickets to watch The Mets play The Angels a few years ago for 2 dollars. I still ended up paying over 60 bucks for parking, refreshments and other stuff while I was there. So even at loss-leader prices the opportunity inside the venue to make money for the club is still there.
Tuesday night, May 28th 2013. USL side Los Angeles Blues played MLS side Chivas USA at Titan Stadium. While some folks were watching the match live, the rest of LA (and America) were relegated to a Steamcast on USLnation. For most of the die hards I know, I can tell you that most of them didn’t bother after the first screen freeze. On TV, Fox Soccer was showing The Magic of The FA Cup. A magazine style show about how Liverpool have done throughout their history in England’s most famous tournament. Of course right here in LA, I was wondering if anyone outside of a the stadium was watching a third division team player in the 11th minute of the second half almost making it 2-1 for The Blue or...in the 14th minute of the second, Miller Bolanos getting fouled and injured, publeague style, by a hapless goalkeeper. Spoiler alert! Dan Kennedy stepped up to take the PK and secure the win for Chivas USA. Ironically, the moment that happened, one of my listeners text me and asked what happened. His screen had froze. US Open Cup lost a fan before the match was done. Of course there were some “upsets.” MLS’ Colorado Rapids and San Jose Earthquakes lost to lower division sides but I’m not sure if but a handful of people watched those matches either.
I keep writing these words- If it didn’t happen on TV, it didn’t happen. I used to think that Streamcast was better than nothing but quite honestly I’m on the verge of changing my mind. There’s no reason to put a match on Streamcast live if it zonks out every 20 minutes. Fans won’t stick around. They’ll switch over to a match from the 70’s on the telly. It’s the downside of being a die hard. You want to watch soccer...any soccer!
If US Open Cup is to be taken seriously it has to be on TV. There are 4 Networks in America that show soccer. One of them is dedicated solely to the beautiful game. An enterprising big wig has to wake up one day and think that US Open Cup matches (even in the first round) are worth airing on Live National TV. If done right USOC matches can be displayed in HD for everyone in America to witness in the comfort of their own recliner. USOC can be presented with the same amount as pageantry and significance as the FA Cup or Copa del Rey. There is absolutely no reason to place rerun matches on TV for the third and fourth time when there are Live matches being played in America.
At least LA Galaxy’s USOC match will be on Time Warner Cable.
Many years ago, I would go to the local in Studio City almost every Sunday to watch matches. On the wall there was a framed photo of a team called The Exiles. A soccer team in LA who famously had Rod Stewart on the squad. In 1989, The Exiles were defeated by The New York Greek Americans 2-1 in the Semi’s of the Open Cup. In 1993 and 1994 The Exiles were defeated in the quarterfinals by a team from San Francisco. I know this because the folks at the Pub would talk about it. The exploits of this team were held in high regard and as each time you heard the tales of this pubteam the stories would get bigger and bigger. Andrew Ridgely (from Wham) was on the squad, Shell Oil sponsored the players with $100 weekly gift cards and the score lines were in double digits. 10-1, 13-1, 18-1. Of course, just like the match in Philly in 1963, I can’t really confirm any of these reports. The folks at the pub could have said Boy George was goalie and that they won matches by drinking a special potion made of dehydrated poptarts and Guinness. I wouldn’t have known it to be otherwise. Even if there was Streamcasting back then, I’m sure it would zonk out in the middle of the match.
It’s time to get all Rounds of The US Open Cup matches on TV. It’s a shame someone didn’t do that this year for the 100th edition.