As the U.S. Open Cup continues to be whittled down, we are getting to a point where real differences between the various teams' motivations. For a few, there's no doubt that they take the tournament seriously.
The Richmond Kickers, as a USL-Pro team, probably consider this bigger than their regular season. Expect them to throw everything they have at Sporting Kansas City.
While not quite as a big of a deal, there's no reason to doubt that Sporting, Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas and the Seattle Sounders also put relatively high value on the tournament. All four teams have put substantial resources behind their efforts either this year or in years past.
The Chicago Fire probably fall somewhere in the middle. Historically, they are arguably the tournament's most successful team since MLS teams began competing in 1996. This year, they have supposedly been unable to put in stronger bids, but they have been using first-choice players.
The same can not be said for either the Los Angeles Galaxy or the New York Red Bulls. Bruce Arena has never tried particularly hard to hide his disdain for the Open Cup. Expect him to use a lineup full of reserves when they visit the Sounders on Wednesday. The Galaxy front office doesn't seem to put a particularly high value on the competition either, as they apparently put in the worst bid of the four potential semifinalists on that side of the bracket and will go on the road even if they manage to win.
Hans Backe, though, deserves the most criticism of the bunch. The Red Bulls coach only took 13 players with him for Tuesday's match against the Fire and only Mehdi Ballouchy was a regular player. Of course, his team also has the Emirates Cup -- a series of midseason friendlies that will be played in London -- as well as being involved in the All-Star game.
Attitudes like his -- and that of the Red Bulls organization -- is one of the biggest things holding the Open Cup back from growing in popularity. If coaches and organizations don't take this tournament seriously, how can we really expect fans to?
Here's hoping for a quick exit from the tournament so that we can all be treated to a semifinals and finals that raises the tournament's profile, instead of treating it like a nuisance.