Bad Day For MLS Doesn't Mean A Bad Day For U.S. Open Cup

BRIDGEVIEW, IL - MAY 09: Alvaro Saborio #15 of Real Salt Lake reacts after missing a shot against the Chicago Fire during an MLS match at Toyota Park on May 9, 2012 in Bridgeview, Illinois. The Fire and Real Salt Lake tied 0-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

With seven of 14 MLS teams losing on Tuesday, it was an embarrassing day for the league, but it may have been a nice boost for the U.S. Open Cup.

As the U.S. Open Cup results started rolling in on Tuesday, they became harder and harder to believe. The Carolina Railhawks beat the defending MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy 2-1. The amateur Michigan Bucks beat the four-time Open Cup champion Chicago Fire 3-2. The first-year San Antonio Scorpions upset the Houston Dynamo 1-0. The Harrisburg City Islanders overcame a 3-0 deficit in overtime to oust the New England Revolution in a penalty kick shootout. And most shocking of all, the Minnesota Stars knocked off a starter-laden Real Salt Lake team 3-1 on the road.

With two games left to play on Wednesday, seven MLS have already been eliminated in their first Open Cup game of the season. The folks on the Twitter are calling it MLSassacre. To be blunt, it was not a good day for MLS.

The more relevant question is, Was it a good day for the U.S. Open Cup?

This will be the tournament's 99th year. For the past 17, fully professional sides have participated. Despite this history, the tournament lacks the kind of resonance with the general American soccer fan that it deserves.

There are numerous reasons why the tournament continues to reside on the outskirts of the American consciousness, but I'll argue that Tuesday's results can only help raise the profile. Sure, it was an embarrassing day for MLS teams. But let's also not make too much out of that.

Only one MLS team lost by more than a goal and four of them actually led late before collapsing. Crazy things can happen in single-elimination tournaments. Anyone that tries to say that this is somehow proof that there's virtually no gap between MLS and lower-division soccer is merely trying to score points.

Once you get past whatever embarrassment MLS suffered, there's much more to like. Chances are, at least eight MLS teams will be playing in the Round of 16 next week. Coincidentally enough, that's the same number who were in it last year. Admittedly, that's because only eight MLS teams qualified for last year's tournament. But if we're talking about tournament health here, I'll take some exciting upsets by lower-division teams over a pair of reserve-laden MLS sides knocking each other off like they have in past tournaments.

The surviving MLS teams will mostly be paired up against lower-division opponents, which gives us another round of potential upsets. The way the pairings worked, though, there will be at least two lower-division teams that advance to this year's quarterfinals. It's these kind of stories that are going to keep people interested in the tournament beyond following their own teams.

As long as the teams surviving are fully motivated to win, the best interests of the tournament are served. If that means MLS teams need to up their games, so be it.

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