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Defending the Cup

If you are a fan of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup you have been to the www.TheCup.US at some point in time. Outside of Adrian Hanauer there may not be anyone who follows this tournament like Josh Hakala and his crew over there.

As I researched the history of the Open Cup, I noticed that so few teams have defended their title, and in the "modern era" -- also known as the professional era -- no team has defended their crown. The Seattle Sounders beat DC United on their pitch to win the trophy they currently hold.

S@H - DC United has twice tried to defend its Open Cup trophy and they failed both times. The LA Galaxy have tried once, and failed. Is there a significant historical impact for Seattle hosting the Final at home?

Josh Hakala of www.TheCup.US - As you mentioned, there aren't that many examples to draw from. Repeating in this tournament is very hard to do, just like any competition, but especially with a single-elimination tournament like this one. Home field advantage is always a big deal, but based on the early ticket sales, it sounds like the Sounders are going to shatter the US Open Cup attendance record and make this really tough for the Crew.

S@H - The unofficial record for attendance at an Open Cup Final is over 21,000. If Seattle passes this mark (current sales at over 18,000) will this help the trophy jump from its mid-major status to major?

TheCup.US - I'd like to think that it will, but frankly, unless something is done to drastically improve the visibility of the tournament, I think the only thing that this does is make the tournament more popular in Seattle and to a lesser extent, Columbus. I mean, let's be honest, Columbus isn't exactly buzzing with Open Cup Fever. They didn't even crack 2,000 fans for their quarterfinal match against the Charleston Battery (which they won 3-0). The tournament itself just need to be promoted more.

The Professional Era (1995-present) attendance record for an Open Cup game is 20,376, set back in the third round of the 1999 tournament. Oddly enough, the game involved the Sounders when they were a USL franchise. That game was hosted on July 13, 1999 by the Colorado Rapids, and the Rapids won 1-0. Colorado would eventually reach the final that year, losing to the Rochester Rhinos of the A-League. However, that match was a doubleheader with the U.S. National Team (It's sad that an event involving the National Team could only draw 20,376).

The next two Open Cup games with the highest attendance were both championship games and both held at Soldier Field in Chicago. The Chicago Fire beat the Miami Fusion in front of 19,146 in the 2000 final and 18,615 fans watched the Fire beat the Crew in the 1998 title game.

The Sounders and the Portland Timbers broke the non-final, non-doubleheader Open Cup attendance record in 2009 when they drew 16,382 at PGE Park in Portland for their third round match that Seattle won 2-1.

Here's the list of Pro/Modern Era attendance at the Open Cup Final as sent by the Sounders

Modern Era Open Cup Finals (since MLS participated in 1996):
Year Site Atten. Score
2009 Washington, DC 17,329 Seattle 2, D.C. United 1
2008 Washington, DC 8,212 D.C. United 2, Charleston 1
2007 Frisco, Tex. 10,618 New England 3, FC Dallas 2
2006 Chicago 8,151 Chicago 3, Los Angeles 1
2005 Carson, Calif. 10,000 Los Angeles 1, Dallas 0
2004 Kansas City 8,819 Kansas City 1, Chicago 0 (aet)
2003 East Rutherford, N.J. 5,183 Chicago 1, New York 0
2002 Columbus 6,054 Columbus 1, Los Angeles 0
2001 Fullerton, Calif. 4,195 Los Angeles 2, New England 1
2000 Chicago 19,164 Chicago 2, Miami 1
1999 Columbus 4,455 Rochester 2, Colorado 0
1998 Chicago 18,615 Chicago 2, Columbus 1
1997 Indianapolis 9,776 Dallas 0, D.C. United 0 (4-2 pk)
1996 Washington, DC 7,234 D.C. United 3, Rochester 0

Most of you have noticed that TV coverage for the Open Cup is poor. Only the Final is on a national broadcast, and it is very rare to have matches on TV even locally. We have heard in the past that this is due to the costs that USSF associates with broadcasting the match.

S@H - Is it just me or is the USSF overvaluing its product for TV?

TheCup.US - I'm not really sure what the problem is. Either, the networks like Fox Soccer Channel and GolTV just aren't interested because there's not enough of an audience, or they're not interested because the price tag is too high. I don't have an answer to that. In my opinion, it seems as though one of those two could use some live programming in the summer months. You can only show replays of the Chelsea vs. Wigan match for so long. At the same time, I broadcast games myself and I know that it costs a pretty good chunk of money to broadcast these games. If you're not going to get enough viewers, it's hard to justify renting a satellite truck, paying the crew and the announcers and sending them to Des Moines, Iowa for a Des Moines Menace vs. AC St. Louis first round match. Neither team averaged more than 4,000 fans per game this year. In fact the Menace, a PDL team, outdrew the USSF Division 2 side from St. Louis. It's easy for fans to say "just put the games on FSC or GolTV," but I think the cost vs. the return just isn't there right now. The best thing fans can do to change that would be to actually attend the Open Cup matches in person. If there are big crowds, the powers that be should notice.

Open Cup popularity is kind of a chicken and the egg situation. Is it not popular because it's just not interesting enough to warrant a mainstream soccer audience? Or is there no audience because not enough resources are devoted to promoting the tournament?

Now, people here in Seattle shouldn't be worried about watching the Open Cup Final on TV. With the announcement that game has moved to a 7PM start time, and the low price of tickets, you may just want to be there. Seattle professional sports have never defended a title in the Final on their own soil. Seattle has hosted so few Finals for its own teams so few times that that alone should get you there. In the past 15 years the only title matches hosted here have been the WNBA Seattle Storm - twice.

While Seattle might not be the best team in MLS. They have the opportunity to be the best soccer team in America, for the second straight year.

Help the team defend its Cup and go to the game.

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