This week’s 10 MLS Thoughts discusses the league’s decision to abandon the U.S. Open Cup, digs into a new coaching hire, and does a whole bunch of other things, too.
1. MLS ditching the U.S. Open Cup sucks
In a classic Friday news dump, MLS announced last week that they plan to have MLS NEXT Pro teams represent MLS in next year’s edition of the U.S. Open Cup as a way to reduce schedule congestion.
I’ll be honest: that sucks.
The Open Cup is far from perfect, but abandoning more than 100 years of history while severing the only tie that your league has with the surrounding American soccer landscape is bad for the fan. Without promotion and relegation, the Open Cup was the only thing that was actually open across levels in the United States. It was the only March Madness-esque part of the soccer landscape. Losing that doesn't just remove narratives, but it eliminates opportunities for lower division teams. They’ll now miss out on the chance to host and earn gate revenue in matches against MLS teams.
For MLS, packing up your toys and taking them back to competitions that you — and not U.S. Soccer — control probably makes a ton of sense to owners. But if it angers your customers, the fans, does it really make sense?
Will MLS reconsider after all of the backlash they’ve faced? Instead of ditching the tournament altogether, could MLS expand their squads to include more MLS NEXT Pro players under the first team branding? Could a more collaborative effort between MLS and U.S. Soccer result in a better, more popular U.S. Open Cup that would serve as a worthwhile tool for MLS?
Right now, there are more questions than answers.
2. Want to make MLS better? Make the regular season matter
There’s been a lot of justified talk about the MLS roster rules over the past few days. If MLS wants to be a bigger part of the global soccer landscape and of the American sports landscape, finding ways to sign better players is important. At the moment, though, enough MLS owners are content with the way things are that we’re not getting any relevant changes to spending or roster building for next year.
If Messi’s arrival in MLS and a World Cup on your turf in 2026 won’t encourage you to accelerate spending, nothing probably will.
The spending stuff can help lead to growth, there’s no doubt about that. But if we look past roster rule changes for a moment, there’s another path towards improvement that’s worth pursuing: emphasizing the regular season.
What matters more: MLS finding a way to add a set of players who each make $1 million to each roster or finding a way to add more intensity and stakes to the regular season? Both of those things matter in the context of improving MLS’s on-field product, but for the novice soccer fan? It just might be that giving the Houston Dynamo and Real Salt Lake something to play for on a Saturday evening in July matters more, because fans notice intensity and urgency. Those are two things that the MLS regular season mostly lacks.