I joked a little bit on Twitter earlier today about how I love this time of the year. I said that I loved how each year around the final of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup that everyone out there wants to point out ways to fix the tournament.
MLSSoccer.com has already posted their thoughts on how to fix the 100-year old tournament. It appears that with each passing year the lists grow shorter. Before it was all about how to get all the US-based MLS teams involved in the same round. Now it appears folks want to shrink the calendar a bit or get someone new to handle the tournament all together.
I'm here to say that there is no perfect remedy to fix this tournament though.
For starters, until the NASL and USL-Pro expand to cover the country more than they currently do, it will be tough to have a regional based bracket with more western MLS teams than lower division sides. The last two years a team like LA has had to travel across the country to play their third round USOC match.
As it stands the tournament began earlier this year in May for the MLS sides and will wrap up tonight in Salt Lake City with the final. Spanning from May to the beginning of October is rough to keep the magic and excitement going.
Condensing the schedule makes sense in a perfect world but given the complex nature of a MLS schedule, it is no easy task to complete. Teams have CCL commitments and during the summer most host foreign clubs. Getting the tournament to wrap up sooner in the calendar won't be easy due to those two items.
I think a mix of things does need to happen but none of it will change the state of the tournament over night. Off the top of my head here is what I would do to the tournament:
- Condense the scheduling of it. Have the earlier rounds moved up in the calendar if all possible from early May to April. Bring in the MLS sides in late May and have the tournament run through the middle of July. Take a cue off the NCAA basketball tournament and make an actual event out of it.
- Increase the pot. The USSF was able to increase the winners payout this year to $250,000 along with the CCL berth. Time to get serious and find a way to double that, at the very least.
- Improve the hosting format. The whole coin flip thing just seemed hokey this year. I loved seeing the removal of the blind bids but if they can't find a more fair way to do the hosting than a coin flip, at least broadcast the draws online so people can see it. Don't send one reporter in Chicago to cover it.
- Limit the number of home games. If the folks running this thing are hell-bent on the coin flip for determining a host for a game, there has to be a way to keep teams from hosting every round. Salt Lake was able to remain at home for entire tournament and look where it got them, into the finals. Teams should not be allowed to host more than two rounds in a row.
- Stream everything. I get that over night you're not going to get an ESPN or Fox Sports to sign on to broadcast every game but I think whoever is in charge has to find a way to stream every single match. If a team doesn't have the ability to stream a game from their venue, then they shouldn't be allowed to host a game too. That may not be fair to the lower division teams but if people want to maximize this tournament, they have to start somewhere, and free web streams of games is a good start.
What kinds of things would you like see done to improve this tournament? Let's hear it in the comments below.