Current of Colorado embraces the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup because it continually answers blurry questions between soccer divisions in the U.S. What pushes the top? What gives us the best show to watch? For us, it’s like a battle of the bands with teams vying for more than our attention. We’re asking players to make us dance, chant, sing, and join along.
At the start of this Current of Colorado video, Colorado’s Bobby Burling shares his view of the tournament from a veteran MLS defender’s perspective. “The lower divisions have picked up the standard,” Burling said. “They’re paying players better. Ownership groups are stepping up and making pushes.”
Near the top of the pyramid, Burling is spot-on. But on the eve of the 2016 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championship game in Frisco, Texas, six teams from Colorado are preparing to battle this weekend for a chance to enter the 2017 tournament. (You can hear FC Dallas head coach Oscar Pareja discuss the LHUSOC with Current of Colorado in this video.)
The six Colorado teams are not “paying players better,” however, because they’re amateur squads. The “ownership groups” are indeed stepping up. Entering this tournament requires money, and these guys are digging it out of their personal pockets. They maintain separate careers, just like their players. The carrot dangling for the tournament’s last-amateur-standing doesn’t really cover the costs of this commitment. A team’s run might end before sunset on Sunday, or a Colorado Cinderella might be in the final next year. Regardless of the outcome, these six teams will continue playing quality soccer.
For questions of promotion/relegation, the LHUSOC answers everything Current of Colorado needs to know. While the debate rages, “meanwhile” is all that matters. If Current of Colorado ran the circus, here’s how it would go.
Like building the Transcontinental Railroad, the LHUSOC should become a nationwide contest to answer the simple question: Who is the best? Designate the LHUSOC as the ONLY qualifier for U.S. teams entering the CONCACAF champions league.* We need to create a women’s version of the tournament as well, and both versions need parameters to make sure they answer our simple question.
Use the tournaments over a few years to identify teams who can rise up competitively and financially enough to play in regional leagues. These leagues will include 120 teams (three 20-team divisions of men and women). At first, the third tier might not look as good as the top amateur standard we see today. But if these teams can stay home and keep costs down, they have a chance to do their part to make people dance, chant, and sing.
For free, Colorado soccer fans can do all the dancing, chanting, and singing they want this weekend. In fact, they have too much. They can pay to see pro ball too. If you go to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park to catch Colorado Rovers vs Harpo’s FC at 5:00 and Rapids/Earthquakes at 7:00, you’ll miss Azteca FC/FC Denver in Aurora at 6:30 and Switchbacks/Sounders2 at 7:00 in Colorado Springs. You can TIVO MLS and watch USL games live (or any time later). But you won’t see which three teams progress toward the 2017 LHUSOC unless you go watch it yourself.
September 17, 2016 — 5:00 kickoff at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park: Colorado Rovers vs Harpo’s FC (a LHUSOC rematch from a year ago).
September 17, 2016 — 6:30 kickoff at Aurora Sports Park: Azteca FC vs FC Denver (a rematch of the 2015 CASL fall championship. Watch action in this highlight video on Current of Colorado).
September 18, 2016 — 3:00 kickoff at Addenbrooke Soccer Complex: FC Boulder vs Colorado Rush (here’s a rematch of the LHUSOC qualifier captured by Current of Colorado in 2015).
* The LHUSOC will continue to include MLS teams, of course. But for pro/rel, leave the league alone. For one, the league bleeds across national boundaries, so it’s not a one-to-one map for the U.S. quest for the best. MLS teams should continue to enter the LHUSOC at the final stages as long as they continue to prove they’re the best. The game in Texas tonight is an MLS battle, as we should expect today. Current of Colorado is simply looking for the best team tomorrow.