If you're a supporter of an MLS team, you most likely want to see your team steamroll its way as far as possible through the U.S. Open Cup, hopefully hoisting the trophy at the end of the competition. I understand that.
But if you're an MLS neutral, as I am at the moment, then you may find the Open Cup to be a rather different experience. I really enjoy watching the USOC, even as a neutral, since there are so many entertaining games. Just this week in the fourth round, we saw an epic rivalry clash between the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers that won't soon be forgotten, the Sounders' USL team give Real Salt Lake a run for their money before losing, Orlando City get three penalties and concede a fourth before taking their game against the Charleston Battery to a PK shootout and winning, and New York City FC coughing up a lead to the New York Cosmos and then falling in a PK shootout.
A lot of compelling stuff, to be sure. But one thing that I found striking was that 14 of the 16 teams advancing to the next round in this year's competition are in MLS. Only the USL's Charlotte Independence, who took a shutout win over the New England Revolution, and the aforementioned Cosmos of the NASL are non-MLS sides left in the Open Cup.
How does that compare to previous years? I did the research and here's what I found:
|Year||Number of non-MLS teams in final 16|
|2015||2 (1 NASL, 1 USL)|
|2014||4 (3 NASL, 1 USL PRO)|
|2013||4 (2 NASL, 2 USL PRO)|
|2012||8 (3 NASL, 3 USL PRO, 1 PDL, 1 USASA)|
|2011||8 (6 USL PRO, 2 PDL)|
It seems like a trend that MLS is becoming more and more commanding in the U.S. Open Cup, though in a knockout competition there are going to be swings year to year. Still, for just over 12 percent of the teams in the final 16 to be lower-division sides, does that mean the downside to MLS teams taking the Open Cup more seriously is that the upsets that make the competition so much fun are going to become more and more rare?
I tend to hate declinist arguments, usually centered around the FA Cup, that the much-vaunted "Magic of the Cup" is disappearing, since that's a trope that literally appears every single year so how much magic could there possibly be at this point if it's getting smaller all the time?
But...to go from half lower-division teams left in the field to just two outliers in four years' time, are we seeing the equivalent "magic of the cup" disappearing on our shores? I don't have a definitive assessment based on the numbers, but it's food for thought at the very least.
Again, I don't blame MLS teams for wanting to win the USOC, and in order to do that, they have to beat the teams they are matched up against. But with the lamentations of fans, mad that their clubs don't put enough effort into the competition, appearing to have made a positive impact, there is one downside to taking it more seriously at the top, and that's that the upsets are fewer and farther between. And on some level, especially for the neutral, that's kind of a bummer.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!