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Righteous Indignation and the U.S. Open Cup

Winning is a whole lot easier when you can buy home games...
Winning is a whole lot easier when you can buy home games...

Regardless of tonight's winner, Cal FC or the Wilmington Hammerheads, they'll head up to Oregon to play the Portland Timbers next week in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup.

This, if you'll remember, is a different arrangement than any other MLS team has when they enter the Open Cup May 29. Who goes where is decided by the winners of tonight's games, essentially a toss-up for the team waiting with a bye to the next round.

Of course, we don't know what prompted the change in prospective venue. As is often the case with lower league teams, they'll rent space from a local college or high school or play on a municipal field and we all know when the team doesn't own its field, the team is subject to the whims of whoever does. So maybe Wilmington, who would've stayed home if it wasn't for this new arrangement, was content to give their players a chance at playing in front of a raucous Portland crowd instead of finding a new place to play. That's what happened, right Merritt Paulson?

Since Paulson tweeted this afternoon a plain and simple "paid em" to an inquiring fan, I guess not. Apparently, Paulson has since removed the tweet, but you can find it referenced in the comments on this Stumptown Footy post.

And it's not only the Timbers who are looking to buy home fixtures, the Seattle Sounders, when they found their Cascadian neighbors bought a home game, said they want to get in on the racket.

Said Schmid: "I heard Portland got the game at their place now, so they bought the game -- it's like Ohio State getting all their football games at home in preseason -- and maybe that's something we're looking at doing, as well."

The Sounders, along with the Chicago Fire, have used the bidding process to great effect over the years. Out of the Open Cup games the Sounders have played since they entered MLS in 2009, nine out of 12 have been at home. Not that there's anything wrong with that. The two teams were just playing by the rules, but the rules are kind of weird and were supposed to change this year, at least for the early rounds.

So in the past the Sounders were willing to pay for home field advantage, something completely ok by the rules. Seattle fans will tell you it's the atmosphere brought by the Emerald City Supporters that make home field advantage mean so much, but that ignores the fact they play on turf, something the league's high-priced designated players often refuse to play on, and that of the two Open Cup finals they hosted, the Columbus Crew (2010) and Fire (2011) who had to travel out to Seattle from more eastern locales, then back.

As for the Timbers, they got booted early by Chivas USA the San Jose Earthquakes last year. So I'm sure that one hurt.

Maybe it's ironic that a blog covering one of the richest teams in the league is whining about a trophy they couldn't have possibly cared less about last year, but imagine for a second the moralizing and hand-wringing brought on by the Red Bulls, or their 1% Derby brethren, the LA Galaxy, handing their lower league opponent a stack of unmarked taurine-tinged hundreds.

Yeah, exactly.

And it doesn't end with cognitive dissonance: Doesn't everyone with more than a passing interest in the game as it's played in this country want the Open Cup taken seriously? The Timbers just essentially rewrote rules that were rewritten last year, not to mention this it hurts the tournament's ability to build a March Madness-style fervor around the event and screwed with the competitive end of things, too. And it damages Major League Soccer's ability to scout potential expansion sites. Regardless of whether or not you think the southeast can support an MLS team, using an Open Cup match as a platform to emphatically sell their bid to MLS is exactly what a team like Orlando City would do.

At the end of the day, though, its nice to know when it comes to the Open Cup the rules are the rules except when they aren't really the rules, and if everyone complains enough you can get them rewritten, but only sort of.