I don't WANNA write about Copa America. I know, I'll have to at some point. But Mexico's gonna win, and we'll never hear the god-damned end of it. Why would I be looking forward to Osorio and Marquez reminiscing about how they stunk up the biosphere for the Red Bulls while they admire their diamond rings or cufflinks or earmuffs or whatever they're going to get for winning.
Eventually, we'll have to put up with it. But in the few days we have left, I want to focus on something fun.
For those of you just joining us, www.TheCup.us is the undisputed top resource for everything to do with the US Open Cup. When they finally open up the Internet wing of the Soccer Hall of Fame, Josh Hakala should be there, because his site's coverage is second to none.
Well, except when some stub-thumbed dullard is running the game-day up-to-date scoreboard. For the past two rounds, that stub-thumbed dullard was Guess Who.
The American sporting public's loss was my gain, though. Allow me to share my experiences.
1. It's a Rush
If you're like me, you enjoy staying up late on Election Night waiting on results with baited breath, or at least with breath redolent of worms. The Open Cup gives me that same energy. Hours upon hours waiting on details to trickle in from sea to shining sea, changing the course of history. Except in the Open Cup, it matters. (Kidding, I'm kidding, vote, participate in democracy, all that jazz.)
With rolling kickoff times throughout the evening, I was refreshing more than a Fanta on a hot summer. I needed the next hit, the next update. There was no break in action from 7:00 pm to 1:00 am the next day. It was like a midweek soccer bender, and it was glorious.
Like Election Night, sometimes the contests are over early ("With 33% of the returns, we project that Rochester has won its contest"). Some go deep into the night, with the result not known until the wee hours. It's a beautiful, intense, glorious thing, man. And I was among the first to know.
2. I Knew Nothing
And sometimes, what you thought was the result wasn't. I was assured that the Richmond Kickers had defeated Aromas Café in the second round 3-0, despite the Kickers Tweeting how they had actually won 4-0. I probably should have taken their word for it.
Or take the sad/hilarious story of The Villages SC, slayers of the Central Florida Kraze and the Charleston Battery. Twitter was alive, alive I say, with thoughts of a small retirement community fielding a juggernaut that would set the soccer world on its ear. Turns out they were using an ineligible player, who had played for another team earlier in the tournament. Never trust anyone over 65.
3. Amazingly Enough, There Is Something That the USSF Does Not Run Perfectly
Josh, of course, has The Villages story of malfeasance, and the many others, on his site. Sure, the Open Cup is a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Not only is semi-permanent notoriety among a small, loud subset of a cult sport at stake, either. The farthest advancing amateur team in the Open Cup gets to take home a cool $10,000. (This year, that will probably be split among Santa Ana's La Maquina and the Kitsap Pumas....barring a pretty serious upset in the next round, and good luck to both. It may not sound like much compared to Frank Lampard's subway token budget, but it's a lot to an American amateur team.) [EDIT - it's an even cooler $15,000. I'm surprised there aren't actual gunfights over it. And Kitsap has a better "quality win" - Sacramento Republic gets paid, LA Wolves do not - so the Pumas are probably going to pocket the money, unless the Galaxy lay a big fat egg in the next round.]
But sometimes the hammer of justice hits screw as well as nail. Scroll down Josh's article and you'll read the sad story of the Ventura County Fusion, who swear they were given permission to field Gabe Gonzalez, once of Cal FC, against the LA Wolves. The USSF booted the Fusion anyway when the Wolves saw the same guy play against them two rounds in a row. In fairness, I haven't asked Ventura County whether they actually got said permission in writing. (Cf., Franklyn Ajaye's classic stand-up routine wherein the litigant fails to bring proper receipts to Judge Wapner.)
4. It'll Be Big Someday, But That Day Is Not This
There were fifteen games in the third round of the 2016 Open Cup, twenty-one games in the second round, and twenty-three in the first round. That's not an avalanche on the level of the first four days of the NCAA basketball tournament, or the sustained charge of the World Cup group stage - but those are highly publicized events. Our beloved Open Cup, on the other hand, ain't.
Once upon a time, scores and statistics of quickly scheduled games between teams on shoestring potato budgets - well, those weren't easy to come by. Even the winning teams would take a day or so before they'd be able to provide anything - not least because they now had another game on the schedule to accommodate.
The losing team, meanwhile, was not going to be quick to supply the exact details of how they were thumped 8-0 by Beanbag United, which minutes the red cards were given, what minutes the own goals were scored and who put them in, and so forth.
Behold another instance where American soccer has been buoyed by the Internet wonder. We have gone from not being certain if games were even played, let alone who precisely did what to whom, to complaints that all of the games aren't streamed live online.
5. They're Still Adjusting to This Whole "Fans Being Interested" Thing
The early rounds of the Open Cup are contested by teams with small followings. Many are teams that had literally no demand for attention until they won an Open Cup qualifying round. It's tough to accommodate a lot of tiny teams across an entire nation. And, well, bureaucracy sometimes put the boot in.
That was Arizona United SC, addressing a nation of looky-loos wanting to mainline instead of relying on contact highs.
This isn't the time and place to address the vagaries of this nation's wacko copyright laws. It's probably enough to point out that once copyright, broadcast rights, trademark, and such are waived...well, that sort of thing is very hard to unwaive. This is why Disney cracks down on children's hospices painting Mickey Mouse on their walls...and it's why you can't watch the Open Cup.
6. There are Open Cup Good Samaritans
So how does one follow the tournament? Twitter, with maybe but not always some extra detail from the teams' message boards...if the team has a message board. #USOC2016 is the hashtag of choice for now, but obviously I can't guarantee it will be useful next year.
For now, though, it's been a godsend. Louisville City fans Periscoped the Detroit City second round match from the stands. Paul Blackman, an OC Blues supporter, trekked up to LA County and live-tweeted from Wilmington, providing the only means of tracking the Wolves-Blues game. He stayed until the end of penalty kicks, which Orange County lost. Spare a good thought to those who support, even a lost cause.
7. It's a Proxy War
In 2015, only two NASL teams survived past the third round. This year, the NASL went 7-2, winning all but one match against USL opposition. Bill Peterson made sure to Tweet individual congratulations to every winning NASL team. NASL fans across the nation relished the vindication, and looked forward to teaching snobbish MLS teams a long overdue lesson.
NASL teams were at home for eight out of those games in the third round, of course, but the US Open Cup is no place for nuance.
If the NASL wants to make the Open Cup the battlefield for Division 1 status, then glory and power to them. But I think people who cheer for domestic leagues in domestic tournaments are missing the point. As a Galaxy fan, I want more than anything for NASL teams to go 7-0 in the fourth round. (Well, 6-1. I can't stand the Cosmos.) Why? Because, naturally, seven NASL teams should be easier to beat than seven MLS teams. Even if the Galaxy lose to La Maquina (a feat they are PERFECTLY capable of), then I'd still want NASL teams to romp - because then I'll be supporting La Maquina, and I'd want them to have as easy a route to the Cup as possible as well.
Sadly, if my dreams come true and MLS goes 2-14 or 1-15 (sadly, one MLS team will advance no matter what), that will reflect poorly upon the league I follow, and I guess me as a person. That's a burden I must bear. Some day, Todd Dunivant's SF Deltas may face the Earthquakes in this tournament. I can pretty much guarantee no Galaxy fan will be cheering on their league when that happens.
8. I Got To Type In The Weirdest Score Ever
That's right, folks. Scoreless draw at the end of regulation. Five goals in extra time. Talk about closer than the score would indicate.
Charlotte were down a man, though. Of course, they had been since the 29th minute. But by golly, the Railhawks wore them down eventually.
Yeah, we'll have Euro and Copa America and the FC Cincinnati-Crystal Palace friendly this summer. But the Open Cup is the one link the domestic game has that spans decades, and in the early rounds you can even imagine how it felt in the 30's watching Gonsalves in front of a passionate crowd of dozens. It's bigger now than it was since (or maybe including) the 20's, and it'll get bigger. The golden age is now, people. Enjoy it.