Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Despite Assurances, The USOC Hasn't Really Changed

So last night the 3rd round matchups of the U.S. Open Cup (USOC) were determined.  The Rapids will travel to Tampa to take on the NASL Tampa Bay Rowdies.  The game will be next Tuesday at 5:30pm MDT.  If Colorado wins they will qualify for the quarterfinals and travel to the winner of the Kansas City - Orlando game also taking place Tuesday night.

If you're keeping track that's now 11 straight USOC or USOC play-in draws where the Rapids have been drawn on the road.  The last 10 of those were supposedly "random" coin flips/draws.  The odds of a team losing 10 straight truly random coin-flips?  1 in 1024, or just under one tenth of one percent.  I think its safe to say some of those, perhaps most, weren't truly as random as advertised.

Which brings us to this year and the newly revised USOC.  After last year's final the USSF announced two major changes for this year's USOC.  The first is that there would be no play-in games for MLS sides, all 16 MLS teams would enter the USOC at the 3rd round.  That happened and all 16 sides will play a game next Tuesday or Wednesday.  The second was that there would no longer be a bidding process to host in the 3rd round and quarterfinals.  Instead there would be a basic minimum amount for the hosting team to pay the USSF plus a percentage of all ticket revenue above the first $100,000.  for the 3rd round that basic amount was $12,000, for the quarterfinals it was $15,000.  There was also a requirement that the stadium to be used meet certain requirements which basically limited hosting to MLS, NASL, USL, and a handful of PDL sides.  If both teams in a draw agreed to make the payment to the USSF and played in an acceptable stadium the home side would be determined by a random coin-flip/draw.

Or at least, that's what the USSF said publicly.  In private it turns out there was a second option.  Teams who lost the flip could buy the home game from their opposition if the opposition wanted to sell it.  Over the last two days both FSL and Seattle have bought their home game back, and Portland arrange to buy theirs from Wilmington but Wilmington was upset last night by Cal FC so Portland didn't have to pay to host.

How is this any different than what its been in past years?  The only real difference, from the point of view of the fans, is that the money is going to another team instead of the USSF.  I don't blame MLS teams for buying the games and I don't blame lower-league teams for selling the games.  The money the lower-league teams get from selling the games could be the difference between survival and closing up shop and its a great strategic move for MLS teams.  I do blame the USSF for misleading the fans into thinking they were making real changes to the competition instead of dressing up the same joke of a competition in new clothes.

Yes, I said joke.  The fact that Seattle has won this competition 3 years running while making a grand total of 1 trip more than 175 miles to do it is a joke (They played the 2009 final in DC, and went to Portland in 2010 and 2001).  In 2008 and 2006 the winners (DC and Chicago respectively) never played on the road.  In 2005 LA never left the state of California, playing a "road game" against Chivas in their shared stadium and a road game in San Jose.  This all happened because the old process was a sealed bid for hosting, with the USSF taking the better bid and awarding that team the home game.  I don't blame those teams for prioritizing the competition and buying the home games, but it greatly devalues the competition.  I really thought the USSF was making a change this year to increase the value of the competition.  Instead it turns out they just took the deals out of the backroom and made them public, but its the same U.S. Buyer's Cup.

For the record I asked the Rapids what they decided to do this year.  The told me they did agree to the requirements to host and lost both coin flips.  They also considered buying the home game from Tampa but did not reveal why that did not happen.

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