Still basking in the Seattle Sounders’ annihilation of the Chicago Fire in Wednesday’s US Open Cup Semifinal, I came across this brilliant article by Graham Parker. Parker wrote it for Al Jazeera America last year before D.C. United beat Real Salt Lake in the USOC Final. The article details the history, appeal and adversity of America’s oldest soccer tournament.
Josh Hakala proposes an image most American sports fans could conceive seeing only in movies.
“Imagine a tournament,” he said, “where the New York Yankees are forced to play a minor league baseball team in a game that really matters — and they lose.”
His respect for the competition goes beyond the desire to win a trophy to a recognition that the continuity of the Open Cup in some ways stands for all the unsung players, coaches, fans and administrators who somehow kept the idea of soccer alive in America, even during the dark times. When he became a coach, many of his new coaching colleagues were old enough to have been players when soccer’s top-level prospects in the United States looked remote.
“My peers, so to speak, are part of that so-called lost generation who played on that indoor circuit, who took that bus to Albany, who took that bus down to Florida, sleeping on the bus, eating at Denny’s,” he recalled. “I hear that from the coaches I interact with day to day, and I respect that and realize how fortunate we are for all the steps, leagues and players that have helped us get where we are with MLS. I’m excited about our cup run, and as a coach, I put out my best team for it, and I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for this tournament.”
Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis said he sees room for improvement in how the tournament is “formatted, treated and viewed” but is a fan of the cup.
“I think the idea of the U.S. Open Cup is a great one. I love that it’s all levels of the game, starting from the amateurs to the semipros,” he said at a press conference Monday. “I love that we have that trophy, and I think it’s a great one.”
The question of how to follow the tournament is a vexing one: The final will be broadcast on the cable channel Gol TV, but most earlier rounds can be found only by watching local online streams of wildly varying quality or following on Twitter.
Still, “even the worst streams are better than it was 10 years ago when I started the site. We’d literally be calling clubs up two days later to ask, ‘What was the score?’ because there was so little coverage,” Hakala said. “But it would be great if someone had the vision to see what’s unique about this tournament and could step up with a TV deal. In time, it really has the potential to capture the nation’s imagination like a March Madness or something like that. It’s an amazing tournament. It’s survived every attempt to kill it, and it’s still going after 100 years.”
Looking ahead to the next century of tradition, Salt Lake’s Kreis hopes to see the tournament take a more prominent position in American soccer.
“When you look at the FA Cup and the history that it has over in England — I think we should be doing everything to emulate that trophy and impart importance to the tournament,” he said. “But we need the leadership to do that. We need the people that put on the tournament from Round 1 to the final (to do it) because, honestly, it feels to me that it’s just now that we’re in the final, now it’s a real game.”
Check out the rest of the article, it is a fine read. Al Jazeera also has a nifty slide show about the history of the Open Cup that features the Sounders. Hopefully Seattle makes makes Open Cup history next month in Philadlephia.