Yesterday, the 2014 U.S. Open Cup dates were announced (the Red Bulls enter in round four with the rest of MLS, to be played June 10-18) and the announcement made a point of noting the winner would head to the CONCACAF Champions League.
That doesn't seem out of place, after all, with a lack of promotion and relegation, the Open Cup is the only tournament where amateur and lower league teams have a crack at qualifying for continental competition.
But Seattle Sounders Head Coach Sigi Schmid is not as enthused about the tournament as he was last year. SB Nation colleague and Sounder at Heart Manager Jeremiah Oshan has Schmid saying he's unsure if the Open Cup winner will get a Champions League berth past this year, among other gripes about a tournament he's not shy about criticizing.
If you'll remember over the winter, there was some confusion about who, exactly, MLS would award it's Champions League spots to. At first, there were reports the Open Cup berth was a goner, but that turned out not to be the case. Instead, the league took the berth away from the MLS Cup runner-up and gave it to the conference champion opposite the Supporters' Shield. In practical terms, it took away a berth from Real Salt Lake and gave it to the Portland Timbers.
So we all breathed a sigh of relief, since the Open Cup is American sports' best kept secret, one of the oldest trophies in the country and, well, it's just a lot of fun.
Now, the Open Cup could be a lot more fun if managed properly. And one of the things that falls under "managed properly" is keeping the Champions League berth, since without it there's not a whole lot to play for. With the single-entity structure, the chunk of change awaiting the winner isn't making or breaking the bottom line (and if you're a player, it's not like the team needs the money to make payroll, so why care?) Lower league teams have a bit more at stake, but taking away the reward for ambition mitigates that a bit.
At least the changes won't come until after this year's tournament, so there's still something on the line for this year's event.