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MLS doesn’t seem to care about the U.S. Open Cup. But here at Backheeled, we do

As MLS distances itself from the U.S. Open Cup, we're ramping up our coverage of the historic tournament.

4 min read

The U.S. Open Cup, as we once knew it, is gone. 

At least for this year. 

This country’s only connection between the amateur game, the lower divisions, and the top flight has now been largely severed by MLS. Last Friday, MLS and U.S. Soccer announced that only eight out of 26 total domestic teams from the men’s first division would participate in this year’s Open Cup. 

Why? Well, MLS has repeatedly cited “schedule congestion” as the reason for wanting to withdraw its teams from the oldest currently-running annual sports tournament in the United States.

Still, it’s impossible to look past the fact that MLS has congested its own schedule. Between the new expanded Leagues Cup that eats up a month of the calendar and an ever-growing list of playoff games, it’s clear that schedule congestion isn’t a legitimate concern for MLS. That ship has sailed. 

No, let’s not be fooled. The real concerns for MLS are money and control.

The U.S. Open Cup, which is run by U.S. Soccer and not MLS, doesn’t feature as many wide-reaching matchups as Leagues Cup. It doesn’t give MLS the same oversight over revenue as their own playoff games, either. And so the league decided to take (most) of their toys and go home, despite the fact that U.S. Soccer’s Pro League Standards require professional teams to participate in the Open Cup.

Does the U.S. Open Cup need to improve? Absolutely. 

It’s an asset that’s never been promoted, broadcasted, or formatted in an ideal way by U.S. Soccer or its other stakeholders. It’s certainly never come close to being a widely consumed sports property in the United States. Those factors played a huge, and at least partially understandable, role in MLS wanting to move in a different direction. Now that they have, it’s going to be even harder for the Open Cup to improve, even with new commercial partners on board. 

As someone who lives and covers this sport outside of an MLS market, the decision made by the league to pull away from the Open Cup stings. 

It’s been a decade since Phoenix Rising (then Arizona United) faced off against an MLS team in the Open Cup. Will Phoenix have a chance to pull off an upset in this year’s edition of the tournament? Or literally ever again? I don’t know. 

This nonsensical format for the 2024 edition of the Open Cup with eight MLS teams here and 11 MLS Next Pro teams there may not last forever. Planning for the 2025 edition of the competition will begin any day now. Maybe it will go back to the way things were. Or, maybe not.

The only connection between the top and bottom of the United States’ atypical, misshapen men’s soccer pyramid is hanging by a thread. With it, hangs the potential for great upsets and even greater stories.

As I’ve been mulling over all of the recent news, I’ve been thinking about ways to shift from justified sadness to some sort of proactive response. 

Well, here it is: at Backheeled, we’re committing to quality, consistent coverage of the U.S. Open Cup this year.

MLS teams or no MLS teams or eight MLS teams, it doesn’t matter. We’re going to have features, analysis, recaps, and other kinds of Open Cup stories right here on the site. We want to emphasize the fact that the Open Cup isn’t just about MLS. 

It’s about the lower-division clubs.

It’s about the amateur teams.

It’s about people. 

It’s about community.

It’s about possibility. 

To pull this off, we’d love some help from you, dear reader. If you have a story to tell or if you know of one worth telling, let us know. You can get in touch with us here. And if you like the idea of shining a greater light on what is a truly special tournament, even if MLS doesn’t seem to think so, tell a friend about what we’re doing here Backheeled

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While we are growing, Backheeled is still only a small part of the American soccer landscape. Despite our size and limited resources, we're going to do what we can to help fans follow the U.S. Open Cup. So, buckle up for more coverage than ever before.

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