Tuesday's US Open Cup matches brought with them a fantastic set of talking points. Eric Wynalda's Cal FC advancing, the Carolina Railhawks to host the LA Galaxy and the Ventura County Fusion defeating the LA Blues all take deserved headlines.
However there is one issue that seems to be ranking above all others among fans. The host-bid process that is seeing several Major League Soccer teams who would have traveled to Division 2 or lower venues negotiate their way to hosting the match. The uproar is understood to some degree as many are saying that they feel the USSF and US Soccer are being unfair to the fans of smaller clubs. Before you get too far into the discussion, Josh Hakala offers us a bit of information on the bidding process.
The fan outcry by so many could just be a vocal minority or it could be that the majority truly feel that way, however at present it is unknown and is perhaps unimportant. What is important is the discussion that comes from it.
While so many are quick to condemn certain MLS teams for bidding their way into hosting matches at their home sites, it is this writers opinion that the benefits in many ways outweigh concerns. It was debated over twitter with some passionate fans of the game that the romance of the tournament is lost if lower division clubs who advance are unable to host larger, more prestigious ones. Perhaps that is so, but let us remember that this bid process offers plenty of benefits to smaller clubs.
The financial benefits to the smaller clubs offer a calculable amount that they can put to immediate good use as oppose to the incalculable benefit that exposure and marketing might bring. Few MLS teams have the pedigree to provide an instant boost in attendance in the smaller markets that most lower division teams represent.
Consider a team like the Portland Timbers, who have a fantastic home support and a dedicated fanbase. Should the Timbers have traveled to hypothetical opponents in Wilmington North Carolina (where they would have played the Hammerheads if not for Cal FC's victory), would they really have provided much stimulus for the Wilmington soccer area? Unlikely. Lacking national team stars or international names that the casual fans recognize, it would have likely been a dull media blip. It has been reported that should the Hammerheads have won, there was a deal in place that would have seen them trade their hosting rights for financial compensation. That is a good thing.
Teams like the Timbers or Seattle enjoy a dose of fan support and dollar backing because of that support. By purchasing hosting rights from the lower division teams, they not only compensate their opponents for travel but also provide those smaller clubs with money that could be used in any number of ways. Player wages, facilities, marketing to grow the brand... a lump sum with which the club can finance any number of things.
Those MLS teams who bid to host matches, Seattle, RSL and if it had worked out, Portland, will all enjoy a powerful showing of support for their club and the tournament. More dollars put into the tournament is a good thing as it struggles to find the audience its 99 year history deserves.
|Sounders FC vs Kitsap Pumas in 2011 at StarFire|
Let us not forget that these lower division teams have just as much a chance of winning the actual soccer match, regardless of who hosts it.
Furthermore, the fact that Major League Soccer clubs are willing to pony up the money to host these matches, lends credence to the fact that the tournament is rising in importance. MLS front offices are beginning to realize the value in the Open Cup, lending it prestige. The nearly century old tournament not only offers a chance to claim silverware (and the moniker of Champion) but also up for grabs is a birth in the CONCACAF Champion's League, which is fast approaching relevance north of Mexico.
In the end, while a vocal minority may not enjoy the idea that their team misses out on hosting an MLS squad, they should take comfort in the fact that their club is being compensated and the benefits of that compensation have yet to be seen. Furthermore, they can still advance... away games are not a death sentence.
Accusations of the bid process being unfair may have some evidence to their claim, but in the big picture, it's a fruitless effort. The bid process is far from perfect, but in 2012 it has given the tournament in Lamar Hunt's name more attention than it has had in many years. That is a good thing.