Now, I know that a lot of y'all soccer fans prefer to concentrate on the Vegas show that is the Premiership—you prefer your matches lightning-fast, your clubs steeped in tradition and cash, your championships for sale to shadowy Russian oligarchs. Understandable. Who doesn't love a shadowy Russian oligarch determined to ruin any semblance of competitive integrity? Huge fun.
But the United States does have, lest we forget, what you might call a "domestic game," and not only because many of the players are paid wages that illegal-immigrant maids would scoff at. (Recent reports suggest that some MLS developmental players earn less than $7 an hour.) And even as the European championships spin into gear, our homegrown competitions are reaching their climax. Last night, the US Open Cup—our simulation of the FA Cup, which just happens to be one of the most historic such tournaments on Earth—cut its field to four.
The semifinals, slated for 6 September (the USSF finally managed to carve out fixture dates for its supposed showcase tournament—one small step for man, one giant leap for Soccer House bureaucracy) look pretty tasty. Sadly, there are no lower-division giant-killers in the pack, but the four surviving MLS sides represent the best the league has to offer.
The Chicago Fire will take on DC United, a match between the two best-supported clubs in the league. (I'm not talking about raw numbers, here, but rather the crazed & creative passion of Section 8 in Chicago and DC's La Barra Brava and Screaming Eagles.) These two teams have come the closest, in the 11 years of MLS, to establishing bona fide club traditions worthy of comparison to European and Latin American football culture. If the league were judged on authenticity alone, these two sides would play for the championship every year. They also happen to be the only Cup teams I've seen play live. DC is in electrifying form—and seeing them draw Real Madrid only confirmed my admiration for Petr Nowak's boys in black. Chicago is having an up-and-down season, but is very, very dangerous, especially when Portland lad Nate Jaqua fires on all cyls.
I know much less about the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Houston Dynamo (formerly Houston 1836, the San Jose Earthquakes and the San Jose Clash). The Galaxy are thoroughly mediocre defending MLS and Cup champions, but this is probably the best chance for Landon Donovan et al to win a trophy this season, so they'll bring it. Dynamo seems streaky, but has also been the most consistently excellent team over the last few years of league history, despite loads of organizational instability. Dwayne De Rosario, all by himself, lends a singular menace to the Big Orange Thing.
(Isn't it awesome how you can freely interchange singular and plural usage when discussing football teams?)
The US Open Cup is a very cool tournament, but also a sad case of US Soccer failing to take full advantage of its assets. The blazers need to figure out how to put this competition in the spotlight a bit. Until they do, it's up to us nerds to pay attention—to love this little trophy with all our dorky hearts. C'mon! It's worth it!