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Opinion: MLS wrong to remove teams from U.S. Open Cup

A cowardly decision from Major League Soccer, fueled by one thing – greed.

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Major League Soccer announced yesterday that its clubs will NOT be playing in the 2024 U.S. Open Cup. The Open Cup is the oldest ongoing American soccer competition, first held in 1913. Instead of MLS clubs, MLS will send its reserve teams from MLS Next Pro.

The Open Cup champions still qualify for Concacaf Champions League (rebranded to Concacaf Champions Cup), and the three Canadian MLS clubs will continue to play in the Canadian Championship.

Over the past few years, MLS has invented a number of new competitions, including Campeones Cup and, most notably, Leagues Cup. With these new competitions and an expanded playoff structure, there’s no question MLS’ leadership is focused on controlling as much of the American soccer landscape (and dollars) as it possibly can. The number of games played each season is becoming a real problem in American soccer, but rather than paring down its own competitions, MLS has chosen to exit the domestic cup.

MLS commissioner Don Garber spoke negatively about the Open Cup in May:

“I would say that they’re not games that we would want our product to be shown to a large audience. So frankly, I’m not all that disappointed that the audience is small. So I appreciate the enthusiasm about it, but we need to get better with the U.S. Open Cup. It’s just not the proper reflection of what soccer in America at the professional level needs to be.”

Since the Open Cup serves as the US’s domestic cup competition, it is the only meaningful competition that gives lower-division clubs the ability to compete against MLS clubs. At least, until now. A recent example is when FC Cincinnati (then playing in USL) defeated MLS clubs like the Chicago Fire in the Open Cup, with a raucous home atmosphere. These are special moments in American soccer, but they won’t be happening in 2024.

The reaction online has been swift and fierce. Former MLS All-Star and USMNT midfielder Sacha Kljestan was quick to respond. The decision even drew ire from MLS insiders like Tom Bogert and Susannah Collins.

Pablo Maurer of The Athletic was quick to weigh in on this decision:

Peter Wilt, who has run multiple lower-division clubs, echoed these sentiments, calling for a boycott of MLS:

The U.S. Soccer Federation certainly has a role to play here, as well. Questions are being asked about why the Fed is allowing MLS to renege on its commitment to the domestic cup:

And USL Championship club Pittsburgh Riverhounds had perhaps the most poignant jab – reminding everyone of their recent victory over current MLS champions Columbus Crew:

How do you feel about the news? What could be done to remedy this state of affairs? Hit the comments to discuss.