The Open Cup caper: When will the Union play their quarterfinal match?
|The Union are still playing for the U.S. Open Cup. |
Somewhere, and eventually.
(Times Staff/JULIA WILKINSON)
When that game will be played remains a mystery.
Jim Curtin shed some light on the matter Tuesday, saying that the Union are preparing for a July 21 date with the New York Red Bulls at a site and time to be determined.
“It’s changed a lot,” Curtin said after training. “In the past, I’ve had a lot of different emails and calls and correspondence. As of right now, I’m told it’s on the 21st. That’s the info I have. The venue is still to be determined.”
For its part, U.S. Soccer still lists the date on its website at TBD. The federation tweeted five days ago that they would have dates scheduled already, but that seems to have gone by the wayside in regard to the Union/Red Bulls date.
#USOC2015 Quarterfinal Dates and Times will be announced Thursday morning.— U.S. Open Cup (@opencup) July 2, 2015
Let’s wade into the convoluted logic holding up something so simple as a game date. U.S. Soccer, which operates the tournament, clearly states that semifinals will be held July 21 or 22. Those blackout dates were established before the tournament began, a guide around which clubs should schedule their other events, such as friendlies.
Despite this, the Red Bulls agreed to take part in the International Challenge Cup, a grandiose sounding yet ultimately meaningless money grab … I mean friendly … against English Premier League champions Chelsea at Red Bull Arena July 22. The arena is also occupied July 21 for an ICC match between French club Paris Saint-Germain and Italy’s Fiorentina. (Hence the added wrinkle of the neutral site.)
This part of the conflict isn’t unique to the Red Bulls, though. Both of the fifth-round combatants in one of the Western Bracket ties were due to play in the ICC July 22. The L.A. Galaxy, which prevailed over San Jose, are scheduled to meet Barcelona July 22, meaning their match with Real Salt Lake had to be moved July 14, an decision apparently taken amicably with the blessing of U.S. Soccer.
That, however, is not an option for the Union, which host English club AFC Bournemouth for a friendly July 14 at PPL Park. It’s clearly not the prestige or profit generator that Red Bulls’ fixture is, but it was scheduled within the bylaws of the competition, a courtesy Red Bulls either overlooked or ignored. It also torpedoes a report from The Washington Post’s Steven Goff about that possibility.
USSF moves Red Bulls' potential U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal up a week to July 15, avoiding conflict with Chelsea friendly #USOC2015— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) July 1, 2015
The Red Bulls originally won the right to host in a draw held June 18. Submission to host is voluntary, and why they were allowed to put in to host when their venue was clearly occupied is beyond me.
On page 46 of the 2015 U.S. Open Handbook (pdf), the tournament provides recourse for such an issue:
For the Fourth, Fifth and Quarterfinal Rounds, a team can petition U.S. Soccer to request a change of match dates upon mutual consent of the participating teams. Only for exceptional circumstances will U.S. Soccer consider a request for a new match date that is later than the date already established for the round. Date change requests must include documentation from each of the participating teams agreeing to the date change. Any incremental costs incurred to accommodate the change of dates (i.e. incremental travel costs for the referee crew or Match Commissioner, etc.) must be covered by the team that initially proposes the request.”
But there’s another statute that holds sway. In this pdf of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (in keeping with the MLS Players Union’s generally clueless media relations and public outreach, the only CBA posted on their website isn’t the last one but rather the one that expired in 2010. Stay hot.), players are protected from having to play a game in, say, the Open Cup on a Tuesday and an international friendly on a Wednesday, which would seem to nullify the July 21 date. From Section 17.3:
No MLS Team (not including Reserve Teams) may play a game within thirty-six (36) hours after the end of a prior game unless such schedule is reasonably unavoidable, in which case no Player shall play in both such games.
This recap by Once a Metro proposes moving the game a week later to July 28, which provides an acceptable window for each team. The Red Bulls have another useless friendly Sunday, July 26 against Portuguese club Benfica, the day the Union travel to D.C. to take on United. With the Red Bulls and Union playing the following Saturday, Aug. 1 at PPL Park, a July 28 or 29 date would satisfy all the conditions.
It won’t, however, reconcile the push and pull within American soccer. In a league fighting to forge its own identity, there’s a growing sentiment that friendlies are an outdated nuisance, a relic that the league has outgrown. On the flipside, the U.S. Open Cup is still battling for traction to be taken seriously beyond the soccer mainstream. There was even briefly talk about the Red Bulls forfeiting the game, three wins away from just their second trophy in franchise history, a decision that would ultimately be detrimental to all involved.
Whenever the Union and Red Bulls happen to find themselves on the same field, it will be thanks to a compromise that is detrimental to the competition.