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Jon Marthaler writes about the Minnesota United and sport of soccer.

SoccerCentric: The worst day ever for the NASL

I suppose the North American Soccer League could have folded on Wednesday; plenty of minor leagues have vanished in mid-season. Nor did the league endure a players’ strike. Nor did news break of, I don’t know, a league-wide drug-trafficking ring?

Omitting those things, though, it was about the worst day the NASL could have imagined. By morning, not only was much of FIFA being arrested at a hotel in Switzerland, but the soccer sports-marketing business in America was being shaken. A U.S. District Court indictment detailed the allegations of how Traffic Sports, a Brazilian sports-marketing company with operations in the USA, had conspired to bribe various North and South American soccer officials, in order to get the marketing contracts for various CONCACAF and CONMEBOL events - including this summer’s Gold Cup.

Among the indicted was NASL chairman Aaron Davidson, who was central in persuading teams to break away from USL to set up the rival NASL in 2010. As president of Traffic Sports USA, he was integral in overseeing the NASL, which is owned by Traffic Sports. Traffic also owns the Carolina RailHawks, and has at times owned the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, the Atlanta Silverbacks and part of Minnesota’s franchise.

By the time evening rolled around, the NASL was announcing that Davidson had been suspended and the league had cut off all “business activities” with Traffic Sports, which makes you wonder how the league could cut off the group that owns and controls it.

And all of that ignores the fact that the nine United States-based NASL teams were in action on Wednesday, playing in the third round of the US Open Cup, all playing teams from lower leagues – seven against third-division USL sides.

Minnesota United FC put together a haphazard performance against St. Louis FC, and a late St. Louis penalty canceled out Minnesota’s early-second-half goal and sent the game to extra time. After a scoreless extra period, United could barely put the ball on goal in the penalty shootout, losing 3-1 and crashing out of the Cup against a lower-league side for the second time in three years.

Shockingly, that was the best performance for any NASL team against a USL team. All seven NASL teams lost; only Indy Eleven, apart from Minnesota, even got the game to extra time. Jacksonville went down 3-0 to Richmond, the worst loss of the seven. Only New York and Atlanta survived the third round, and both were playing fourth-division or amateur sides.

League owners indicted for racketeering; seven league teams turfed out of the Cup by those from a rival minor league. That’s about as bad a day as you’ll find for the NASL.


For more on NASL and the indictments, check out Northern Pitch. 

SoccerCentric: The US Open Cup needs fewer repeats - and more magic

Wednesday night, Minnesota United FC begins their US Open Cup campaign for this year. For the un-initiated, the US Open Cup is the open knockout competition for all US-based clubs; the preliminary round took place in late April, with only amateur teams, and gradually bigger and bigger teams have entered the competition. United, in the second division, plays their first game in the third round; St. Louis FC, their opponent, had to win a second-round matchup with the fourth-division Des Moines Menace to advance.

The coin flip again went against Minnesota, and they’ll be traveling to St. Louis for Wednesday’s game. And if they can win that, their reward is a trip to Sporting Kansas City on June 16. Which would be a repeat of last year, when United won away in Des Moines, earning a trip to Kansas City for the fourth round. And also a repeat of the previous year, when United lost at home against Des Moines – but if they had won, they would have made the journey to Kansas City for the fourth round.

Coin flip luck is one thing, but the US Open Cup’s emphasis on geographic scheduling is another. Minnesota fans guessed their team’s schedule as soon as the tournament’s format was announced – Des Moines, St. Louis, or (maybe) Madison in the third round, then Kansas City in the fourth round. The “magic of the cup” tends to disappear when you’ve seen the same trick over and over and over again. The US Open Cup should be the most widely exciting competition in American soccer, one that unites fans across the country – not the same thing, over and over again, every year.

US Soccer’s determination to pit teams against each other geographically makes some sense in earlier rounds; most of the amateur and semi-pro teams, from the fourth-division PDL on down, don’t have the financial wherewithal to be making repeated cross-country trips for the US Open Cup. Geographic scheduling means that more teams can enter the tournament, and that’s a good thing.

Once the tournament gets into the third or fourth round, though, I wonder whether geographic scheduling is even necessary, from a cost perspective. MLS, NASL, and USL teams should all be able to bear the cost of entering the tournament. Most lower-division fans, including Minnesota’s, get excited about the chance to enter a tournament that includes the entire soccer country, including MLS. At the top, some MLS teams take the competition less than seriously, then turn around and treat it as a financial burden, which is disingenuous; Kansas City, which worked hard to sell their game against Minnesota, drew more than 17,000 fans for last year’s game. This tournament should be a money-maker, not a money-sucker. If it’s done right, it can work for everyone.

United play-by-play announcer Chris Lidholm came up with a partial solution that US Soccer needs to take a hard look at. His idea is to eliminate the repeats at the fourth-round stage – to change it so that we don’t see a replay of the same MLS-vs-lower-division match every year. Effectively, if Minnesota played at Kansas City in 2014, make it so that Minnesota can’t be drawn against Kansas City in 2015, removing the possibility of having the same match over and over and over.

There could still be a geographic component; repeated Kansas City trips might be replaced with games against Chicago, or Colorado. It wouldn’t have been difficult to swap games this year – in that scenario, the Minnesota/St. Louis winner would have played Chicago, and the Indy/Louisville City winner would have played Kansas City. None of that seems like it’s a problem.

As American soccer develops, we shall hopefully see the US Open Cup transition to an entirely open competition, and Minnesota drawn against whoever, from across the country – Pittsburgh or Arizona, Ventura County or Fort Lauderdale. But Lidholm’s suggestion will at least eliminate the year-to-year sameness. And it would certainly help the future Des Moines, Madison, and St. Louis fans, stuck with repeated games against Minnesota’s new MLS side.


For much, much more on United in the US Open Cup, check out Northern Pitch.

Local Schedule

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  • Saints at Amarillo

    11:05am on 1220-AM

  • Toronto at Twins

    7:10pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Saints at Laredo

    7:30pm on 1220-AM

  • Toronto at Twins

    1:10pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • New York Cosmos at Minnesota United FC

    7pm

  • Saints at Laredo

    7:30pm on 105.1-FM

  • Toronto at Twins

    1:10pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Saints at Laredo

    7:30pm on 1220-AM

  • Saints at Grand Prairie

    7:05pm on 1220-AM

  • Saints at Grand Prairie

    7:05pm on 1220-AM

  • Saints at Grand Prairie

    7:05pm on 1220-AM

Today's Scoreboard

  • Chicago White Sox

    Baltimore

     

    - F

    3

    2

  • Chicago White Sox

    Baltimore

     

    - Bot 7th

    3

    5

  • Boston

    Texas

    7:05 PM

  • Detroit

    LA Angels

    9:05 PM

  • NY Yankees

    Oakland

    9:05 PM

  • Pittsburgh

    San Diego

    9:10 PM

  • Cleveland

    Seattle

    9:10 PM

  • Atlanta

    San Francisco

    9:15 PM