The Best Soccer Tournament in the USA

I tried to record play-by-play this morning for Colombia vs. Greece but found myself interrupted by parental duties  As long as my wife is out of town, doing consistent play-by-play is going to be, unfortunately, difficult.  I am watching the World Cup as we speak but wanted to bring attention to other soccer going on today that many casual soccer fans might not know about.

Soccer is a funny sport because, unlike other sports, teams participate in multiple tournaments per year that all run concurrently with each other.  In the NFL, winning the Super Bowl is the only objective.  In the NBA, the goal is to win the NBA Title.  Every game played by every team in those leagues contributes directly towards the accomplishment of that goal.  Not so in soccer.  Most every country has at least two championships to win every year.  Spain has the La Liga title and the Copa del Rey.  Brazil has the Brasileirão title and the Copa do Brasil.  England has the FA Cup and the English Premier League title (among others).

La Liga, the Brasileirão, and the EPL are what you would think of as a normal season of sports.  Teams play every other team twice for a total of between 32 and 40 games, depending on the league with the team with the best record at the end being crowned champion.  Playoffs exist in some leagues around the world but rarely follow the system of domestic sports leagues in the USA where the top teams make the playoffs.  While these regular leagues are going on, teams are also competing in their national cup tournament.  These tournaments are usually single elimination where the better team advances to the next round (though sometimes the single elimination is played over two matches, a home and away leg with the winner being the team with the most bowls in both matches combined).  On top of these domestic cup tournaments, the elite teams in each country can qualify for their continent’s champions league, which pits the best teams from each country in the region against each other.  And these tournaments all run concurrently.  So a team might play in its domestic league on Saturday, in its continental championship on Wednesday, and in its domestic cup tournament the following Saturday.

The United States has its version of the above format.  The top league, Major League Soccer, runs from March all the way through to late November or early December.  The USA’s domestic cup is called the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and, believe it or not, the tournament is celebrating its 101st year this year.  It is single elimination and who hosts each match is determined by a coin flip.  The winner of the Open Cup qualifies for the CONCACAF Champions League, the continental championships for the Caribbean, North, and Central American region.

I love the U.S. Open Cup.  It is a tournament that truly crowns a champion of the USA because it includes not just MLS teams but also teams all the way down the four-tiered U.S. soccer pyramid.  So MLS teams play NASL teams play USL Pro teams play USLPDL teams.  Even local amateur teams can qualify to play in the early rounds of the Open Cup.  This year’s open cup gives us a new regional rivalry as the New York Red Bulls of MLS play the New York Cosmos of the NASL. In the years to come, the three teams in New York could build epic rivalries.

I bring the Open Cup up in the midst of all of the fun of the World Cup because, despite most domestic leagues going on hiatus, including MLS, the Open Cup has matches over the next few days.  Real Salt Lake, for example, travels tonight to face NASL side Atlanta Silverbacks.  The match will be broadcast on RSL’s website, at this link.  If you haven’t had your fill of soccer today, check it out.  Anything can happen in the Open Cup, which is why it is, in my opinion, the USA’s best soccer tournament.