MLS Clubs Just Showed Their Fans That They're All About Money

Galaxy, Quakes, Red Bulls schedule big money friendlies on US Open Cup QF dates
by Ray Marcham   |   Friday, May 01, 2015

US Soccer Federation (USSF)

It’s the question of friendlies versus trophies, and three MLS clubs may have sent a message that their fans may not like.

Follow the money. Schedule the friendlies. Only specific trophies are important.

When the schedule for this summer’s International Champions Cup came out on Tuesday, MLS was well represented. The Los Angeles Galaxy, New York Red Bulls and San Jose Earthquakes are all involved, joining Barcelona, Chelsea, Club America, Fiorentina, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain and Porto in the event. All big names, and it is a chance for the MLS sides to play against some world-famous opposition.

Each MLS club gets two matches. The Galaxy plays America at the StubHub Center on July 11 and Barcelona at the Rose Bowl on July 21. The Quakes play Club America at their new home, Avaya Stadium, on July 14 and Manchester United on July 21 (venue not yet announced, but don’t be surprised if it’s Levi’s Stadium). The Red Bulls host two matches at Red Bull Arena, playing Chelsea on July 22 and Porto on July 26.

When the schedule came out, many fans saw the obvious conflict that had developed. The LA-Barcelona, San Jose-Manchester United and New York-Chelsea matches were all set for the exact dates that had been previously announced for the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup. It was obvious what had happened. The three MLS sides had gone for the money, ignoring a major trophy in the process.

It’s not that the USOC dates could be rescheduled, if the Galaxy, Quakes and Red Bulls made the quarterfinals. The ICC matches create significant schedule congestion, with none of the three clubs able to get an open midweek date for the USOC quarterfinals until early August. For the Galaxy, that the schedule for the 2015-16 CONCACAF Champions League will likely start in early August will add to the congestion.

The US Open Cup schedule has been out since early February, so the MLS clubs can’t claim ignorance. Besides, all three have USL clubs that will jump into the tourney in the second round.

It’s a matter of priorities, and it’s obvious that the priorities in playing Barcelona, Manchester United and Chelsea are money and exposure. But they also happen in the middle of the MLS season and in the middle of a very busy July for all three clubs. There’s nothing at stake, as none of the three MLS teams will play enough matches to be eligible to win the ICC trophy (the European sides that play four matches will be playing for the tournament trophy). In the case of the Galaxy and Quakes, there will likely be as many fans supporting Barcelona or Manchester United (maybe more) as for the home teams. These matches truly are friendlies.

And for many MLS fans, mid-season friendlies are generally a waste of time. They’d rather see Barcelona play Manchester United than the Galaxy, because LA is still in its season and should have bigger priorities. Distain for friendlies have even forced some clubs to no longer have them, unless in a preseason tourney of their own. And when they happen, such as Seattle’s match with Tijuana in later March, it results in grumpy supporters and not a good atmosphere.

This puts US Soccer in a very tough position. If one, two or all three of the MLS sides make the quarterfinals of the Open Cup, then what happens? Would they reschedule the quarterfinals and the semifinals (set for August 11-12) to accommodate the clubs? Would they force them to play two matches in two days, with the USOC games being played before or after the ICC friendlies? It’s a situation that doesn’t put the Open Cup in a good light, no matter what happens.

And that’s sad, because so much more is at stake in US Open Cup matches than in any of the ICC friendlies. The winner goes to the CONCACAF Champions League, and as Montréal has shown, a big run there can be nothing but beneficial to the club and to MLS. Also, it’s a real trophy, the US equivalent to the FA Cup. Why shouldn’t it be a priority?

Unfortunately, for many MLS clubs, the Open Cup is not a priority. The example that Seattle has set, that the trophy is a priority, has not been followed by others. The Sounders made the USOC a priority, and have won it four times since entering MLS in 2009. Supporters with most clubs now see the Cup as very important, not just because of its ticket to the CCL, but also because it’s a national title, a trophy that has to be earned.

But of the trophies that an MLS club can win, front offices seem to dismiss the USOC very quickly. They are looking at the MLS Cup and the Supporters Shield, with the Open Cup not seen in a good light. That’s a shame, and reflects the attitude that Premier League sides in England are starting to show towards the FA Cup. One hundred years of history, ignored in the drive for short-term exposure and more money.

That is what it comes down to. Los Angeles, San Jose and New York prefer money boost and somewhat-increased exposure of the ICC than playing the US Open Cup. There’s no trophy, no title, nothing at stake. Just a few extra dollars and a chance to say, “Hey, look who we played!”

Meanwhile, the chance to play for a real trophy, a prestigious trophy, a trophy supporters want the clubs to win, the US Open Cup, gets tossed to the side. And a shame that is.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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