Congrats to Seattle Sounders for winning the StarFire Open, and doing it on the road at CenturtyLink Field!!
And there's no doubt that it's easy to be annoyed that a victim along the Sounders' Open Cup championship road would whine about an organization more successful by any definition than his own. But that still doesn't mean that he doesn't have a pretty fair basic point: the secret purchase of home games is a pretty creepy way to determine home field advantage.
And it is a simple fact that the three-time-champion Sounders are 14-for-14 in Open Cup games -- including a couple of play-in games -- and that 11 of those games were played at home.
Granted, there are plenty of examples in sports where you get what you pay for. Just as Sounders management deserves props for assembling a roster deep enough to compete for Supporters Shield, MLS Cup, CONCACAF Champions League and U.S. Open Cup all at once, so too do they deserve credit for being willing to spend money on things like charter flights home from New England in advance of the Cup final ... and, yes, for bidding aggressively enough to pave the Sounders road to their Open Cups with home games.
"I don't think you can take away from the fact our ownership group is willing to out-bid to get us home draws," goalkeeper Kasey Keller volunteered last night. "The tremendous atmosphere we have at Starfire for games is a huge advantage to us. You can't look only at the team, it's a total club effort to have days like this. Big thanks to them. Then what do our fans do? They come down here and break their own record from last year, but what makes it even more special, is something from day one--it's one thing to have a great crowd...but to be able to back it up and be successful for that crowd is something that I'm so proud of in these last three years that we've been able to accomplish."
So in that sense, props to management for stepping up to acquire those games. And that credit can be extended on to the fans for showing up in the kind of record numbers that make those aggressive bids possible.
But is bidding really the way to determine who hosts these tournament games? Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer has said that he at least wishes the bidding process weren't so secretive. And coach Sigi Schmid has suggested that there might be a better way altogether.
I asked losing coach Frank Klopas directly last night if a single-elimination championship should be settled on a home-pitch advantage acquired by secret bid.
"What can I tell you? That's the way they do it, maybe if they find a better solution when it's a neutral site, I couldn't tell you," he said. "It was an opportunity. I know that we did everything we could to get it. It would have been great to play at home, but regardless it's a final, and things that aren't in my control I can't worry about that."
As this tournament is beginning to show signs of growth, signs of increasing value, the people who do have control -- the U.S. Soccer Federation -- should consider a better way.
And according to this story from the Sporting News, perhaps that's about to happen.