Tuesday night Real Salt Lake will play the second most important match they have ever played at Rio Tinto Stadium, the 2011 CCL final was the most important. This will be the third time RSL will be able to lift a trophy at home, they failed in their two previous attempts (2008 Western Conference Final & 2011 Champions League Final). Of course it is funny how some people don’t put much weight behind the US Open Cup, saying that MLS teams rarely take it seriously, that US Soccer doesn’t really care about the tournament, but it is kinda strange when you compare the realities to those statements.
5 years ago I would have agreed that most MLS teams dialed it in when it came to the US Open Cup, the format changed often and it was hard to get fans interested in it. Then came back to back to back titles by the Seattle Sounders, who showed that it was the easiest path to Champions League. Last year more teams put out top lineups and the final between Sporting KC and Seattle was played before 18,000 plus fans and saw SKC win in a PK shootout. This year we saw more teams (not all) put serious effort into US Open Cup, it sure was the case for RSL.
In the first Open Cup match for RSL, they put out a mixed lineup (Saunders, Palmer, Watson-Siriboe, Salcedo, Wingert, Morales, Alvarez, Velasquez, Beckerman, Sandoval, and Findley) and used all 3 subs (Plata, Grabavoy, Stephenson). It took RSL extra time to get their 3-2 win over Atlanta, but clearly showed that the team was going to take the tournament seriously. The second match for RSL was against Charleston again saw a very experienced lineup used (Saunders, Wingert, Maund, Borchers, Beltran, Velasquez, Beckerman, Morales, Grabavoy, Garcia, Sandoval – subs Stephenson, Plata, and Findley) and again it took 120 minutes for RSL to secure their 5-2 win.
The third match saw RSL take on Carolina, and as the stakes got higher RSL’s lineup reflected the serious effort to win the tournament (Saunders, Borchers, Salcedo, Beltran, Wingert, Grabavoy, Beckerman, Morales, Stephenson, Findley, Saborio – subs Garica, Alvarez, and Plata) and this time RSL was able to finish off their opponent 3-0 in regulation time. RSL would face the Portland Timbers in the Semifinal match, both sides were putting forth their top rosters, RSL put out (Rimando, Beltran, Borchers, Salcedo, Wingert, Grabavoy, Beckerman, Gil, Stephenson, Findley, Saborio – subs Plata, Morales, Alvarez) which was enough to secure the 2-1 win and move RSL on to the final.
So while I can’t answer for other MLS sides, but the league has promoted the tournament by posting match recaps, live streams, and regular articles about the tournament. In fact I just looked at the MLS website and noticed 7 stories/posts about the finals including features by ExtraTime radio, as well as other stories. Heck MLS even sent one of their teams officials to watch the coin flips for the various rounds of the tournament.
Then there is US Soccer, which has regularly posted the results, matchup and other info about the tournament. They adjusted the rules to make it a more fair system to choose who would host each match, they increased the prize money, but for some that isn’t enough. They posted a great article on Monday about the final and this in the middle of a World Cup qualifying cycle. Here is an image of the US Soccer homepage that featured the Open Cup final.
A lot of critics point to the rights of the US Open Cup final being sold to GolTV, of course GolTV has lost a huge amount of their footprint in the US, like now defunct Fox Soccer Channel, as new players like Bein and NBC Sports have emerged. However at the time of the multiyear deal, GolTV was actually in more households than Fox Soccer and was still a major player in soccer on TV in the US. Should US Soccer have included some types of outs in the contract? Sure maybe, but 3 years ago tell me which of you had heard of Bein or NBC Sports?
So beyond if the tournament gets the attention it deserves, is the reality of the match on Tuesday night. For RSL it is one of several trophies that they are fighting to claim this season, with an outside shot at the Supporters’ Shield, and just a win away from securing their 6th straight MLS playoff berth. It is the most immediate priority, as it give the team a chance to celebrate a championship at home with their fans, it also means they will be back in Champions League next year (along with the allocation money that comes with that). The other side of the pitch will be occupied with DC United, a team that had high hopes after a strong finish in 2012 only to see things go so very wrong this year. How wrong, well DC United have 15 points on the season and have secured the number one draft pick in next years draft(yes there is a very slight mathematical possibility they don’t finish as the worst team in MLS this year) , so for them there is only one thing left that can help them redeem any part of this season, a win on Tuesday.
So one team looking for redemption, one team looking for validation on what could be a historic season, oh my the pressure on both teams couldn’t be much higher. Both sides rested their normal starting lineups over the weekend so they could focus on this match, both sides will put out their very best possible players on Tuesday. The only bad thing about Tuesday is the limited availability of GolTV for people to see this match on TV, but for 20,000 people who will get to see it live on Tuesday night, it should be something Epic.
That’s How I See It