The US Open Cup is the oldest club competition in United States soccer. This year’s competition will be the 102nd edition of the tournament, which brings together all three levels of professional soccer, as well as some amateur clubs, every year for a FA Cup style knockout tournament.
Despite the fact that it's the longest-running competition in US Soccer, many times, the competition and its winners fade into obscurity. For example, one of the two most successful teams in the contest, Bethlehem Steel FC, played from 1907-1930. They no longer exist, and there is a very good chance that you have never heard of them. Many times, the competition doesn't get much attention with the media, or make any sort of splash with the fanbase. Only 15,256 people showed up for the final in 2014, which was about 3,000 seats short of a full house. The competition doesn’t gain much attention.
However, this could change. The Cosmos have been quite vocal about their interest in going all the way to the finals this year. Even though it has traditionally attention, the Cup, and the Cosmos, could both benefit from the Cosmos doing well.
Despite being a high-quality league, the NASL is still considered to be a second-division. For US audiences, second division implies second rate. While this obviously isn’t true, the average fan won’t have any respect for a NASL or a USL side, if they even know those leagues exist. The US Open Cup gives these clubs a chance to circumnavigate the restrictions of a single-entity league, and prove themselves on a national stage. The Cosmos’ defeat of the Red Bulls brought a lot of attention on the NASL. If the Cosmos, or any NASL side, were to do well against the MLS, it would raise eyebrows all around.
Let’s be frank: very few people care about the US Open Cup. The MLS sides show up expecting to knock around a few amateurs, take a trophy home, sell a few tickets, and go on with their lives. But if a few NASL sides pulled off a couple of upsets, it could very easily stun audiences. Defeating the Red Bulls will get a couple of shares, and send us on to the next round. But when a trend starts of NASL and possibly even USL clubs showing up against the bigger sides, we could start a trend. And trends are what keep people paying attention.
In short, if the US Open Cup doesn’t mean anything, well, we could make it mean something. While it may not be popular now, success could be the key to bringing attention not only to the competition, but to the teams as well. This year, I’m not only rooting for the Cosmos, but for everyone in the NASL, and the USL too. And, if you want to see small clubs getting attention on a large scale, and possibly a breakthrough in the structure of US Soccer, I suggest you do as well.