TUKWILA, Wash. – Sigi Schmid believes the US Open Cup suffers from a perception problem.
Specifically, the Seattle Sounders head coach thinks the lack of transparency in the tournament’s draw process leads to some skepticism about its fairness. The Sounders have now lost all four coin flips they’ve been a part of this year, which means they’re scheduled to go on the road if they beat Cal FC on Tuesday (10 pm ET, Fox Soccer) and advance to the quarterfinals.
“Obviously, the coin is not favorable to us,” Schmid told reporters on Sunday. “Being very frank, I think US Soccer is trying to make it difficult for us to win an Open Cup. It's almost like sometimes I get the feeling like they'd rather not see us win it again, for whatever reasons. Maybe they think it dilutes the value of the Cup or they're getting pressure from others that think Seattle can only win it because they're playing at home.”
Schmid pointed out that the Sounders’ luck stands in stark contrast to that of D.C. United and Sporting Kansas City, each of which are scheduled to play potential quarterfinals at home. MLS teams have participated in coin flips for the third, fourth and quarterfinal rounds when both teams applied to host. Seattle hosted the Atlanta Silverbacks after coming to a financial agreement with the NASL club to make the change.
Seattle also host Cal FC on Tuesday because of Portland's loss last week. Should the Sounders advance, they will travel to either San Jose or Minnesota, but still could host if they came to an agreement with either club.
On the other hand, Sporting KC – whose manager, Peter Vermes, sits on US Soccer’s board of directors and was also an assistant to Schmid on the US U-20 team at one point – has won all of his coin flips this year. United have won all but one coin flip, as they were forced to play at the Richmond Kickers in the third round.
“It's just something that's there,” Schmid said. “I think they're making it difficult for us, but it's like, 'OK, they can throw obstacles in the way. We're going to try to jump over each of those hurdles.' And I think we can. Maybe it gives us an 'us against the world' mentality a little bit, because I really think that they would prefer for somebody else to win it.”
Although Schmid joked about a two-headed coin being used to decide who hosts, he did suggest that the tournament suffers from a lack of transparency. The coin flips happen behind closed doors, and the pairings are decided on a round-by-round basis. Neither helps the perception that everything is on the up and up, he said.
What Schmid hopes to come from all this is that the tournament continues to grow in relevance.
“I think when you look at the attendance figures we've had at the finals and so forth, I think the Open Cup now is something that as a soccer nation people are much more aware of,” Schmid said, pointing out that when his 2001 LA Galaxy team won the tournament, it was in front of just 4,000 fans and played at Cal State Fullerton. “If what I'm saying appears negative, I'm not trying to be negative toward US Soccer. What I'm trying to do is raise the awareness of the competition.”
Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com and SB Nation.