LA foes Carolina on USOC debate: "It's about trying to win"
It took less than three hours.
Carolina RailHawks fans gobbled up every one of the nearly 7,000 tickets made available for the US Open Cup third-round matchup against the MLS champion LA Galaxy set for May 29 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. And the NASL club is just an inspector's approval away from putting the 1,500 seats in their newly constructed northstand on sale as early as Friday.
Unlike Atlanta and Minnesota, the RailHawks are one lower-division club that never considered selling their right to host a 2012 US Open Cup elimination match.
"I'm not an owner, so I look at it from a slightly different perspective than an owner would," Carolina president Curt Johnson told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday. "At the core of this it needs to be about trying to win the tournament."
Johnson, who is also a former player, was the chief executive in Kansas City when the MLS club lost to the minor league Chicago Sockers on penalty kicks in 2000, the year they also won their first MLS Cup.
They never lived down the elimination and Johnson and Kansas City prioritized their scheduling and budgeting to ensure they succeeded in the competition. They finally won the USOC in 2004.
"At its core, I'm a proponent of doing things that help support our brand and certainly winning and making a run in the Open Cup would go a long way," he said of his current mission at the RailHawks."
But Johnson also recognizes the difficult decision faced by fellow-NASL sides Atlanta and Minnesota. Both accepted financial proposals from the Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake, respectively, in exchange for giving up home-field advantage in the third round. The 2012 tournament rules allow for such deals.
"That's a very tough decision to make," Johnson said. "We're fortunate because we have a significant fan base and whether it's the Galaxy or Chivas USA in the next round, they're going to support us. So from our standpoint we're really working hard to win it."
Although the RailHawks president wouldn't categorically rule out the possibility of making a deal similar to the ones accepted by Atlanta and Minnesota — "It would take something very, very, very attractive in a number of different areas, not just the financial side," Johnson said — he knows the club's supporters wouldn't appreciate the move.
"My phone would have already been cut off and I'd probably been moved out of my office by now," Johnson joked. "Bottom line is, yes, there would have been a very similar reaction here if not larger because of the fact that the Galaxy is such a marketable and known quantity right now.
"Our focus is on doing what's right for the community here," continued Johnson. "The town of Cary is investing $6 million in upgrading our facility. We already have a beautiful facility and it's getting better. We're not building this to go play games in other places and give up potential home-field advantage. But there's always an equation."