U.S. Open Cup (cont.)
The added intrigue in this year's tournament has led to larger demand for viewing capabilities. Live web streams have been available for some games but not all, and more will be available going forward. Fox Soccer picking up the Sounders-Cal FC match is an anomaly, and one made possible by Wynalda's connection to both the game and network.
"We'll continue to upgrade [viewing capabilities]," U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said. "In some cases there's a cost associated with it. As the tournament continues to grow, we'll certainly look at those options."
Another aspect under scrutiny is the venue selection process. Even with the random determination going through the quarterfinal round, selection has not been as simple as coin-flip winners hosting games. Three MLS teams purchased hosting rights off lower-tier foes in the previous round. One of those teams, Seattle, even had its coach Sigi Schmid insinuate to The Seattle Times that a U.S. Soccer conspiracy existed to keep his team away after the club lost three consecutive coin flips. Becher said the New York Red Bulls approached Harrisburg City about potentially swapping venues for their fourth-round match, but even if they had agreed to terms, it would have come too late in the process.
"[Selling hosting rights] are decisions made by ownership groups," Gulati said. "In the past, when it was a competitive bidding, the bigger market teams more often than not had the home games. We've had a couple agreed to change venues. Whether that's in their interest, those are decisions made at the ownership level. For the team, it allows them to play in a potentially bigger market and a bigger crowd, but sure, the thought of, as Carolina did, having 6,000, 7,000 people, that's obviously very exciting for supporters of that team.
"We will look at it after this year -- the format, venue selection, increased marketing, how we make [viewing the tournament] more accessible."
Another byproduct of the Open Cup is the potential for players to earn their way up the ladder. Someone that an MLS front office personnel has glossed over in the past may turn into a late-season roster addition down the line.
"For our players, they're on a bit of a stage and trial in some sorts," Becher said. "Somebody does really well, catches somebody's eye, maybe they get an invite when the season's over. It's happened in the past. There's no doubt an opportunity."
Wynalda said that six or seven of his players have attracted genuine interest from professional teams as a result of Cal FC's Open Cup run, with Barrera, a former University of California Santa Barbara standout, getting offers from unidentified European clubs. This came after MLS teams like the Chicago Fire and Chivas USA passed on his services earlier in the year despite his insistence and sales pitch, according to Wynalda.
"The other part of [entering Cal FC into the Open Cup] was to get these guys exposure and an opportunity to be seen," Wynalda said. "I can't imagine a better way than playing against the [three-time defending] champion Seattle Sounders in this cup. We're going to go to Seattle on live television. I guess we got what we wished for."
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