Cup This

By John Sloop (@NCAMookie), columnist.

When it comes to club play, I don’t like Cups, and I cannot lie.

FA Cup, League Cup, US Open Cup... ugggggh. I derisively refer to these competitions as “friendlies” and see them as at best a distraction from the only goal I care about: winning the league. At worse, they are yet another opportunity for one of the best players on my squad to get injured. In 2017, when Chelsea won the Premier League, we still had to play Arsenal in the FA Cup final. While my colleague Davey told me he wouldn’t consider the season a complete success without winning the Cup, I barely bothered to watch (meaning, I watched intensely but didn’t pace). [Note: we lost. I concerned the season a HUGE success).

I realize that most people disagree with me on this, at least in part, but this week, when Pep Guardiola suggested that the League Cup should be dispensed for the good of football (“more quality, less quantity,” he said), my sense is that this was met largely with approval. The League Cup, at least, seems to be an aside at best. And with Jurgen Klopp putting a large number of youth players on the pitch during Cup draws, there is yet another manager who, in my mind, sees the value of winning the League itself as transcending any Cup competition (not including Champions League).

Here, domestically, while we have a parallel to the FA Cup (the US Open Cup), we do not, thankfully, have a version of the League Cup. Nonetheless, I still feel the same way about the US Open Cup (forgive me, Josh Hakala). Not only are some teams going to be involved in a number of additional competitions (Champions League, the new Leagues Cup pitting MLS and Liga MX sides against one another), but it’s all just more opportunities for the players to tire themselves out or get injured.

Nashville SC in the 2018 US Open Cup | Ben Wright/Speedway Soccer

Yes, I get the magic of some of the early Cup rounds, and it’s fun to watch some of the giant killer matches and occasionally see a USL side make it toward the end of the tournament. All the same, do I really want Gary Smith to be putting Nashville’s starters out there while we are trying to make the playoffs? Hell no. Not me.

Not wanting to be one of those people who complains without offering an alternative, I’ve got an idea, or, rather, I’ve stolen an idea from my friend Kyle Laymon. Why not make the US Open Cup utilize some version of the rules for who plays for national teams in Men’s Olympic Soccer. Here, the team is basically a U23 team with three players allowed over the age of 23. For my money, this would be beneficial to everyone.

First, it would in some interesting ways slightly level the playing field between MLS sides and all levels of USL sides. That is, with the average age of USL players being lower to begin with, they would likely be able to continue to field much of their starting 11, if they so chose. My guess is that most MLS sides would have to sit out a number of their starters. As a result, the odds of lower level teams moving further in the tournament is higher. And that’s exciting.

2019 US Open Cup final | Photo US Soccer.

Second, it would give us all a chance to watch both bench and developmental players for our team. I know that I love when I get to watch Chelsea youth players in action. It would be great to get familiar with some of the younger NSC players who are not yet starting, not yet getting much playing time.

Third, if someone doesn’t play, he can rest. If he doesn’t play, he can’t get injured. Again, “more quality, less quantity.” It’s a good philosophy, and I, for one, would like to see it pushed here.

I know I’m just a guy on a keyboard hollering at the moon again, but this time, I’m willing to holler pretty loud. If anyone will listen.

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