Selling US Open Cup Hosting Loses Support for SilverbacksThe Atlanta Silverbacks, NASL and USSF claim they want to grow the game, but their immediate gratification proves otherwise
by Abram Chamberlain | Wednesday, May 23, 2012
It is amazing how an event that should produce joy amongst a club’s supporters can suddenly bring the unfortunate negative reality of a situation to the forefront.
Last night the Atlanta Silverbacks, of second division NASL, won their second round game in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup against the Georgia Revolution, their next opponent was scheduled to be the Seattle Sounders. The Sounders, winner of the last three US Open Cups, have been the dominant team in this tournament during their time in MLS. Part of Seattle’s dominance in this competition has often been attributed to the fact that the majority of the games were held at Starfire Sports Complex, Seattle’s smaller secondary home field.
In the old rules of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, the United States Soccer Federation did what they referred to as blind-bids. While many in the fan public are not totally sure how it works, the end result almost always ended up with teams like Seattle, D.C. United or the Chicago Fire hosting games against lower division teams. However, this year the USSF went with a blind draw. The idea, I assume, was to give more credibility to the tournament and the winner. Over the past few years, the US Open Cup has been pejoratively referred to by some fans as ‘The Starfire Open Cup,’ so instilling the blind draw for hosting was supposed to give more credence to the tournament.
But then, just a few hours after the Silverbacks and also the Minnesota Stars, won their second round games, rumors began to leak that their next round MLS opponents – Seattle Sounders for the Silverbacks and Real Salt Lake for the Stars – were looking to “negotiate” for hosting rights to the next round’s game.
In this situation, “negotiate” was just a code word for “buy.” The MLS sides would end up having to pay for running the stadium, the flights and accommodations for their division 2 teams and presumably something else. Truth be told, I have no problem with Seattle or Real Salt Lake doing this. If you have the support and the money to be able to finance another team to play a tournament at your venue, then more power to you.
I do, however, have a problem with the USSF allowing this ridiculousness and the Stars and the Silverbacks showing they have little to no future ambition. In a world where promotion and relegation does not exist, teams are looking for any entry point to get into MLS.
If an amateur team like Eric Wynalda’s Cal FC had sold their hosting rights to an MLS club, it would be understandable. Cal FC, after all, does not even have a true home stadium. They also do not, as far as I know, have ambitions to one day play in MLS.
Atlanta and Minnesota do.
In fact, along with Orlando City (whose blind draw put them in LiveStrong Park and not in the O), Fort Lauderdale (whose blind draw gave San Jose the USOC hosting rights), New York and Las Vegas (who do not have teams in the USOC) two teams that are most mentioned as possible MLS expansion sides are Atlanta and Minnesota. I highly doubt that the Orlando City front office would sell their hosting rights to an MLS side, but I could be wrong. After all, the Stars are a league owned team. That means that even at some small level NASL had something to do with the sale of the Minnesota game to Salt Lake.
What further infuriates me, as a supporter of US soccer in general, is that the USSF idly sits by and allows MLS to come in and purchase these games and undermining the competitive spirit of the tournament. This, once again, shows that the tournament is not about “growing the game,” but rather about growing USSF’s bottom line.
For the sake of full disclosure, I am somewhat of an Atlanta supporter. I’m not a member of the Westside 109, Atlanta Ultras or the Eastside 309 Guerrillas, but I support them because they are my local club. The idea of Atlanta getting to host not just a real, live MLS side but one with a huge following in the confines of Silverback Park – which incidentally holds more people than Starfire Sports Complex – was exciting. There was a palpable sense of excitement amongst supporters, casuals and even non-soccer fans who had assumed that Atlanta was going to beat the Georgia Revolution and move on to the next round.
But what the Silverbacks front office did was inexcusable.
Yes, we all understand that money talks. We get that if someone shows you the money you have no problem spitting in the face of your supporters. We even understand that despite some MLS clubs struggling financially, they are much more fiscally stable than most NASL sides.
This this was a golden chance for Atlanta to show that it could sell out all 5,000 seats at Silverback Park. This was an opportunity for them to show the City of Atlanta just how far soccer had come. This was the golden opportunity to bring Atlanta Wants MLS from a small grassroots program to another level closer to what the Sons of Ben did for Philadelphia soccer.
That potential has gone now. Sold to the bigger fish in the Sound.
Instead Atlanta chose to rile up their supporters for all the wrong reasons. Additionally, Atlanta has reduced the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup back to the Starfire Open Cup. The blind draw is now useless if Portland, Seattle and Salt Lake can just buy hosting rights from lower division sides. And yes, again, if you are Cal FC that is one thing, but if you are the Stars and the Silverbacks and have your own soccer specific stadium with your own ruckus supporters then that is something entirely different.
Feeling the backlash from many supporters today, the Silverbacks front office released a statement listing the primary goals for the money they made from selling the hosting rights to Seattle. One of the outlined plans is to have an exhibition against an MLS team in Silverback Park.
An exhibition? As opposed to a meaningful game in the oldest competitive tournament in the US?
Let me be clear. I do not blame the Sounders. I do not think they “bullied” the Silverbacks into their decision. I blame the Silverbacks. In their lust for short term gains they may have trashed their long term ambitions. Atlanta sold out themselves; sold out their supporters; sold out the US Open Cup; and possibly sold out soccer in Atlanta. The NASL and USSF are also complicit organizations, in that; they allowed this travesty to happen.
The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is supposed to help grow the game. It is supposed to bring higher level soccer to smaller markets – or in Atlanta’s case huge markets with no MLS clubs. But the Silverbacks front office decided that whatever financial gain they could make was more important than growing the game and more important than their own ambitions.
And most importantly more than their supporters, which they now have one less of.