Ever since the news Monday that the five US-based North American Soccer League teams won’t be eligible to play in this year’s Lamar Hunt US Open Cup competition, the blogosphere has been in an uproar. Those who haven’t been hopping mad have been espousing conspiracy theories or suggesting Open Cup exclusion was either a way to push the sanctioning vote through (which happened, narrowly) or punishment for causing this whole mess in the first place.
I’ve been thinking about these things, starting from the position that USSF’s official explanation – that there wasn’t time to work the NASL teams into the Cup format this year – was disingenuous. US Soccer hasn’t released the Open Cup format until late April or early May in each of the last two years and, to my knowledge, MLS hasn’t yet announced how it’ll determine its competitors, so the “Sorry, we were so efficient this year that we actually had this all planned out well ahead of time, maybe next year” excuse didn’t ring true. (To be fair, USSF announced the 2007 USOC format on January 29, so there is precedent). Since then, I’ve been told by two people closer to the situation than I am that USSF actually does have the thing worked out and the explanation is true. So maybe Occam’s Razor is in play here. In which case, I was totally wrong on that and my tweet about it probably started more of a brouhaha than it should have.
If that explanation doesn’t ring true to you, though, then we’re down to “USSF has it out for the NASL and wants it to fail,” “USSF is punishing the NASL for dragging everybody into this whole unpleasantness” or, my particular favorite, “MLS is afraid of playing NASL teams in the Open Cup because of the potential embarrassment if they lose.” I can’t think of another possibility. But let’s look at them one at a time after the jump.
“USSF has it out for the NASL and wants it to fail”
MLS would, of course, be complicit in this if you believe the nonsensical ravings of a lunatic mind. So, why, then, would USSF honcho Sunil Gulati basically circumvent the Federation’s own procedures and then not bring the measure to a vote of the full AGM? Why would Gulati and MLS Commissioner Don Garber abstain from the Board of Directors vote (which would have gone from 6-5 “for” to 7-6 “against” had they both voted “no”)? It seems to me that Gulati
abused his power to shepherd this through so the NASL could play this year. Was it for selfish reasons (to avoid a potentially messy lawsuit)? Was it to avoid looking like the bad guy? Was it to let the NASL sink or swim on its own? Or was it to give the nascent league a chance to deliver on its promises? I don’t know. But those who would espouse the theory that USSF or MLS are trying to kill the NASL don’t seem to have a lot of ammunition on this one.
“USSF is punishing the NASL for dragging everybody into this whole unpleasantness”
I have heard there’s an element of vindictiveness in this, but I don’t know how much stock to put in it, given when I heard that, it was “They’re not going to get sanctioning mainly because so many people are pissed at (NASL CEO) Aaron Davidson.” Obviously, not everyone’s buying what Davidson is selling, as five board members voted “no” on sanctioning (we don’t know which ones), but there’s no evidence that he pissed off enough or the wrong people (unless Gulati was better at arm-twisting in Las Vegas than he was in, to use a location completely at random for no reason, Zurich).
And then, I’m still at a loss to figure out exactly what “punishment” there is in not having to play in the Open Cup (sorry, Lamar, love ya). So you don’t get a June midweek game against either another team in your league or someone from USL-Pro and the chance to maybe play an MLS team later? Where there’s a 70 percent chance you’ll be eliminated (MLS teams are 70-30-14 against the second division and have advanced in 80 of 114 matchups)? You might miss out on the $10,000 prize you’d get for being the last Division II team standing, sure, but $10,000? With the money Traffic is floating to get this league off the ground? Granted, you can’t win the $100,000 for taking home the trophy, but, let’s be honest here: Division II teams are 1-for-15 and their chances of even making the semifinals are slim (besides only getting three teams in 15 years through to the final, the lower divisions have only filled 11 of the 60 semifinal berths since 1996).
Being shut out from the CONCACAF Champions League would be unfortunate (especially if you believe the potential financial ramifications), but the winner of the 2011 US Open Cup wasn’t guaranteed to get an automatic berth to the CCL anyway.
So I am really not seeing the “punishment” part. Fake Sigi mentions “withholding a stamp of legitimacy,” which I’d tend to agree with more if the Open Cup had a stamp of legitimacy itself.
“MLS is afraid of playing NASL teams in the Open Cup because of the potential embarrassment if they lose.”
I covered this above, but, yes, 30 times a Division II team has beaten an MLS team in the Open Cup, though nearly half of those (13 of 30) have been by two clubs (neither of which is actually in the NASL at the moment): Rochester (7) and Charleston (6).
Wins over MLS Teams
|Long Island Rough Riders*||1|
|Staten Island Vipers#||1|
(If you’re wondering, the Galaxy is 8-1 lifetime against D2, and DC United is 11-2-1, while Colorado’s 4-6-0 mark and Chivas USA’s 1-3-0 are MLS’ nadir.)
MLS has, does and will likely always lose matches to lower-division teams in the USOC (six of the losses came in one tournament – 1999, with four more in 2005). That’s the nature of the beast. Yet it hasn’t stopped the league from growing, building stadiums, adding sponsors or getting television deals. The Galaxy losing to Puerto Rico in the Champions League was a bigger deal and even that hasn’t killed them (Puerto Rico wouldn’t be participating in the US Open Cup anyway).
So if you’ve got another conspiracy theory, bring it on. Given what I’ve learned in the last 24 hours, it looks like we were all wrong, too quick to jump the gun and believe the worst. To be fair, you can’t actually blame anyone for taking the under when it comes to USSF’s preparedness or organization of a major event, but to the extent I contributed to the climate of disbelief, I apologize.