Four years in existence, four straight years of one-and-done appearances in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. After Wednesday night’s humiliating defeat to the New York Red Bulls, New York City FC sadly remains winless in our country’s annual soccer tournament.
Considering the bitterness of the Hudson River Derby, that loss stings all-the-more after losing for the second straight year to “Big Brother” (and the “Who’s your daddy?” chants as time expired really rubbed salt in the wound). Yet, Wednesday night’s loss reveals NYCFC’s continuing attitude toward the U.S. Open Cup: Indifference.
It’s hard to believe there’s a lack of interest in the tournament considering the club’s dedication to excellence and building a winning culture. Yet, each Open Cup loss in the team’s short existence has been frustrating to the fan base, especially since all four losses have come to other New York teams:
- 2015: New York Cosmos
- 2016: New York Cosmos
- 2017: New York Red Bulls
- 2018: New York Red Bulls
The 2015 loss is somewhat acceptable considering City was an expansion franchise in their first season. However, NYCFC’s meteoric rise to the Major League Soccer’s elite in the following years has made each subsequent loss unacceptable.
It’s apparent that the club doesn’t care about the pride that comes with asserting themselves as New York’s best. The club fielded what could be considered “B squads” in 2016 and 2017, and while Patrick Vieira fielded a competitive team Wednesday night, it was clear the wrong starting XI wasn’t on the pitch. NYCFC struggled to maintain possession in the middle of the park and desperately missed the playmaking ability of Maxi Moralez.
Now, I will say this in City’s defense: MLS teams tend to place a bigger emphasis on league play and the MLS Cup. However, winning the U.S. Open Cup provides a team with the opportunity to be an ambassador of the entire league.
The winner of each iteration of the Open Cup is awarded a berth in the following season’s CONCACAF Champions League, a competition in which MLS teams have been outclassed by the best of Liga MX and other leagues in CONCACAF. In fact, no MLS club has won the federation’s annual competition since 2000, when the LA Galaxy took home the trophy.
Three other American teams are allocated berths in the Champions League every year, with MLS Conference champions and the MLS Cup winner all earning ta place at the table. These three other avenues to the Champions League provided by MLS still gives NYCFC an opportunity to qualify, but a diminished emphasis on another path to the competition is unfortunate.
MLS is at a pivotal point in its development and a Champions League trophy could go a long way in increasing the league’s standing among the American Big Four. There’s no doubt that the Boys in Blue are talented enough to make the competition and, quite possibly, win the whole thing if given the opportunity. It all comes down to whether or not the club can acknowledge and appreciate the pride that comes with winning such competitions.
To be fair to NYCFC, they were put in a tough spot this past week. Playing Red Bulls in their opening Cup game during a week where they play league-leading Atlanta United must have forced the team to prioritize which match is more important. Considering where they currently sit on the Eastern Conference table, it makes sense that they didn’t field a full strength squad.
However, if NYCFC really wants to make a lasting impact on the league and American soccer, putting a higher emphasis on the U.S. Open Cup would be a good course of action. Not only would winning the tournament add silverware to the club’s empty trophy case, it would give NYCFC an opportunity to improve Major League Soccer’s standing in CONCACAF and the United States.