Because I'm pretty sure I used "Your Cup Runneth Over" before. The two most interesting matches - at least, the ones we thought would be the most interesting - of the third round of the Open Cup are tonight, but the big topic is already established. No, not Seattle and Salt Lake buying home matches, although that certainly worked out fantastically beautifully resplendently well for the Royals. It's upsets. Everywhere upsets, and What It All Means.
I would not want to be a player under me right now.
- Jason Kreis
Players win games, coaches lose them, referees ruin them.
- Eric Wynalda
Wynalda himself, whose team probably wishes the Timbers weren't put on their guard by last night's MLSlaughter (it's funny because it works for both "MLS Laughter" and "Major League Slaughter" - pardon me a minute while I sit here and adore myself), said via Twitter something to the effect that the teams that played their starters won, the teams that played their reserves didn't. He's right, but it's important to remember why he's right.
In 2006, the league had twelve teams. Today, it has ninety-six billion. Keep in mind what each new MLS expansion team does to the player pool - while drawing players away from the lower divisions to some extent, it takes more from incoming NCAA graduates (as well as phenoms and/or dropouts and/or goofballs), with a strong side order of international players. Who, not coincidentally, tend to be rested for the early rounds of the Open Cup.
Furthermore, three of those teams play in Canada, America's Wales. So their interest in the US Open Cup is strictly academic, if not microscopic. With three teams in Canada, that not only dilutes the MLS talent pool in the short term, but for the purposes of the Open Cup, removes that talent altogether. Do the - well, it's not strictly math, but, we've added seven teams, and three of them don't compete in the tournament.
In this scenario, all you need are a few teams resting their starters, and what are you left with? The same level of players who would have been playing in the USL, only less experienced.
I hate to pick on the Galaxy, but it's such a great example - the started a back line of David Junior Lopes, Tommy Meyer, Bryan Gaul and Leonardo. Gaul and Meyer are rookies, Leonardo hasn't played in over a year, and Lopes can comfortably be described as a journeyman. Whether or not the Railhawks exceed the Galaxy's B-team in talent, they score as well or better in professional experience.
It probably didn't hurt that Colin Clarke has done this sort of thing to the Galaxy before. I'm not going to say that Clarke is a better coach than Bruce Arena, but Clarke was using his first choice players, and Arena was testing out the other side of his salary cap. The coaching talent gap between MLS and lower divisions is even thinner than the talent gap for players, for what I hope are obvious reasons - until MLS expands to a thousand teams, it won't make an appreciable dent in the potential coaching pool. Is Jay Heaps a better coach than Harrisburg's Bill Becher? Maybe, but Becher has a lot more experience.
In addition to their league success, the City Islanders have proven themselves capable of beating the big boys: Harrisburg has beaten Major League Soccer teams in U.S. Open Cup competition three times: 1-0 over D.C. United in 2007, 2-1 over New England in 2009, and 1-0 over New York in 2010.
That's the blurb as of right now - the front page of the City Islanders' site warns fans of a potential weather delay for the New England game. Presumably the site update will have to wait until the hangover wears off, and fair enough.
The system works. We won't see a 50% casualty rate again, but we'll have upsets every year. MLS coaches are going to want to see their players in a real game situation. This is why, as Steve Sirk pointed out on Twitter, it's unfair to say that the players do not take the Cup seriously. Come to think of it, I've pointed out a number of times that the professional life of an MLS player is precarious enough that dicking around a chance for playing minutes isn't terribly called for.
Are there coaches and players who consider the tournament a headache? Probably. My advice to any coach or player who believes a national tournament to be an unreasonable and burdensome waste of resources is to find another line of work. The US Open Cup has been around since there was an Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was here before you, and yes, it'll be here after you're gone.
Should MLS ditch the Open Cup? If they want to look like punks, I guess. If coaches think an extra plane ride and the chance to learn more about their roster is too troublesome, well...again, what an excellent and inspired choice of careers, Coach Cup-Hater. Like other countries don't have challenge cup tournaments.
So the Open Cup isn't as important as other items on the menu. You could say the same about the Supporters Shield, and it isn't as if teams are half-assing the regular season in order to get hot at the right time and make a playoff run...are you, Galaxy? Because in the words of R.J. Squirrel, that trick never works.
The system works, friends and neighbors. The winners won, the losers lost. Let's do it again next year.
It has also come to my attention that some are concluding that, because lower division teams can beat first division teams, it follows that those lower division teams should replace those first division teams on an annual basis. But why should Toronto, a team that has nothing to do with the Open Cup, pay for the sins of Real Salt Lake? Philadelphia didn't lose their Open Cup game, why should they be relegated? Just because the Galaxy deserve to be relegated doesn't mean it'll ever happen.
But that's a different topic. And a stupid one. Anyway, go Atlanta and Cal FC - because misery loves company!