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For MLS, U.S. Open Cup is a Poisoned Chalice

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A warning to RSL players: You won't like him when he's angry.
A warning to RSL players: You won't like him when he's angry.

Due to a recent re-draft of qualification rules, Tuesday and Wednesday marked the first participation of MLS sides in the 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup despite the tournament being in the third round. What should have been a cakewalk was instead a disaster for many MLS teams. Consider the resources MLS clubs have apart from their lower tiered brethren: boatloads more money, a series of drafts (i.e. the SuperDraft, the Allocation Draft, weighted lotteries, etc.) to distribute talent, and fully-staffed professional coaches, doctors and front offices.

The larger question is whether these upsets are good for the sport in America. The point is this, upsets are great for the sport of soccer and for this tournament. But the fact that seven eight MLS sides failed to progress in their first games against lesser competition is proof that MLS clubs are not taking the tournament seriously.

And that is bad. It's a disgrace to the game and the MLS sides are doing a disservice to its fans. Like the petulant child that's been coddled, it's time for some tough love. Read more after the jump.

Everyone loves the Cinderella story. You always hear the phrase that "games aren't played on paper" and you need look no further than March Madness for examples.

I know little about college basketball. I rarely watch college games and vaguely keep track of the coaches (Tom Izzo is still at Michigan State, right? Ed. - That is correct). Yet every year without fail I do my NCAA brackets. I never win but I usually come in ahead of my wife and, thankfully, have never finished dead last. The upsets in the NCAA tournament are what makes it so compelling. If every Final Four were all #1 seeds, it would be a reflection of a boring tournament.

The upsets aren't the problem. Or they wouldn't be a problem if the MLS clubs were putting in a legitimate effort. The proof is in the pudding.

There's no question yielding lineups for cup competitions is a delicate balance. In Chivas USA's 1-0 win over the Ventura County Fusion Tuesday, I think Robin Fraser deserves credit for putting a good lineup that featured both regulars (Juan Agudelo, Juan Pablo Angel), subs (Blair Gavin, Jorge Villafaña) and players who don't always get a lot of first team time (Cesar Romero, Tim Melia, Scott Gordon).

I don't have a problem with teams sitting their regulars during early U.S. Open Cup matches. For instance, I'm glad James Riley did not make an appearance Tuesday. He has been a vital cog in the Chivas engine as of late, he hasn't missed a game and the 29-year-old defender is up and down the field all game long.

Coaches and players are saying all the right things. Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis said, "I would not want to be a player under me right now," after his team's loss Tuesday to the Minnesota Stars. After losing to Carolina Railhawks (Chivas' opponent next week) Galaxy striker Chad Barrett ‏(@CBarrett19) tweeted:

Coming home...disappointed as I've ever been. We have to fix this quick, and we will. #keepthefaith

But if the results are the same next year, we can only regard that as lip service. As much as I'd like to believe otherwise, I don't think we can risk this sort of showing next year in this tournament. The MLS clubs showed a lack of respect to Lamar Hunt, a man who has done so much for this league and whose name, rightly, graces the cup.

That means opening the rulebook once again and writing clauses rules to penalize clubs who fail to advance in the competition. Yes, It's a radical idea and is perhaps an overreaction, however teams need to know that failure to compete won't be tolerated.

There's a fine line between rules enforcing teams to fulfill their obligations and becoming a nanny state. MLS and the US Open Cup federation would do well to make few rules but to follow through on them fervently.

Punishments should be meted out to teams who fail to advance, but they are not realistic. It seems a simple and obvious metric, but look, we can't gauge intent. It's impractical first of all and quite frankly, in the end would just evoke a lot of anger and wouldn't move the league to a good place. Costing each team a third round supplemental pick might not carry enough force while fining $100,000,000,000 might possibly be excessive.

Besides, teams who field "weaker" lineups yet advance shouldn't be penalized. Remember, it's not the lineup that's the issue, it's the result.

It is almost laughable to think it has come to the point where teams would have to motivated by punishment to actually want to show up. However It is against this culture of disappointment that Chivas will try to resist next week as they hope to continue their cup run.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!