Noonan Highlights CPL’s Commitment To Domestic Cup As US Falters On Their Own
With the news that Major League Soccer intends to pull its first teams from the US Open Cup – the USA’s well-storied domestic cup competition that functions akin to England’s FA Cup – Canadian Premier League commissioner Mark Noonan has chimed in to the matter.
While he didn’t exactly phrase it as a snipe at MLS, the timing of this comment leaves it hard to interpret otherwise:
“For those wondering: Yes, all CPL clubs will be participating in the 2023 [sic] Canadian Championship,” said Noonan online. “We are committed to working with our partners at Canada Soccer to continue building the game in Canada by supporting this important domestic competition.”
Noonan, who has worked as the CMO of the US Soccer Federation and as the Marketing VP for MLS, has a unique perspective on unfolding news south of the border, though it looks like Canada will steer well-clear of a similar path.
His comment comes after MLS revealed that its clubs will directly withdraw from the domestic cup competition for the first time in the league’s 29-year history. Instead, each club’s MLS NEXT Pro affiliate side will participate. Obviously, players from these ranks could have been pulled to the first team to feature in it before this move, but now head coaches don’t have a choice: it’s affiliate sides or bust. In the case of DC United, who don’t have an affiliate side, they’re just out indefinitely.
This reduces fixture congestion for MLS first teams, which was one of MLS’s main points of contention: with the arrival of the Leagues Cup, they are more lucrative tournaments to focus on, and a lot of games to play against professional opposition rather than amateur sides in less compelling venues.
However, as The Athletic points out, this move appears to fly in the face of a USSF requirement on professional league standards: US‐based teams must participate in all representative U.S. Soccer and CONCACAF competitions for which they are eligible. MLS and US Soccer have been in discussions about it, though it’s unclear what US Soccer is going to officially say about the news breaking.
The US Open Cup has a history that predates Major League Soccer (and at 1914, it’s not close) and represents the only representation the country has of true ‘cup magic’: that any team in the domestic footballing pyramid can make it to the top, even if their league is the ‘Federal Way Men’s Open Sunday League’.
Still, the last-non MLS winner came 24 years ago. MLS has dominated the competition in the same manner that the Premier League does in the FA Cup, though moments when clubs like Arsenal drop down to play non-league competition prove quite memorable for the minnows and local spectators alike, if not for the star players visiting.
On Canadian pastures, this year marked the first time an amateur team ever defeated a professional team in the Canadian Championship: League1 BC side TSS Rovers knocked out Valour in the opening round, sending the home crowd supporters into raptures. It was an iconic moment of the cup.
Canada has seen its own domestic cup competition expand from 6 to 13 when the CPL arrived in 2019, with the domestic competition currently resting at 14 teams. The US Open Cup, by comparison, had 107 teams involved this year, with mid-week matches and highschool venues featuring aplenty in the competition.
Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber is no secret critic of the USOC: back at a board game meeting in May, he stated that the tournament was a ‘poor reflection’ of what the league was trying to do with soccer at the highest level. The ‘open’ part of the cup, of course, means the lens isn’t just about the clubs at the highest level.
Despite more positive comments from just a few weeks ago stating that he federation and its respective leagues need to embrace the competition, the news of the withdrawals caught many by surprise. While it frees the first team of fixture congestion, many think that ought to be the purview of the head coach in terms whether they want to hand squad players and academy hopefuls game time in the cup, or throw in first team players to boost their odds at being in a ‘cupset’.
Now it’s a moot point: MLS is out, full-stop. Given that the winner gets a berth to the Concacaf Champions Cup, how things might work if an MLS NEXT Pro side tops the competition need to be sorted, too. It’s all a little murky for the moment, but one thing is clear: this marks a drastic shift from MLS away from a global staple in football.
As it stands, the Canadian Premier League’s commissioner wants people to know that he isn’t sending Canada’s top flight down a similar path.