MLS commissioner Garber criticizes U.S. Open Cup as 'poor reflection' of top-level soccer

MLS commissioner Don Garber criticized the state of the U.S. Open Cup on Friday, stating that the tournament is "a very poor reflection on what it is that we're trying to do with soccer at the highest level."

Garber made his comments at the open session of the U.S. Soccer Federation board of directors meeting that is being held in Frisco, Texas, ahead of this weekend's National Soccer Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.

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Garber was responding to a presentation made by USSF chief commercial officer David Wright, who said that the USSF is "really bullish" about the U.S. Open Cup, which is a single-elimination tournament that is open to both professional and amateur sides from throughout the country and has a devoted following. Aside from the COVID-19-pandemic-affected years of 2020 and 2021, the tournament has been held every year since 1914.

But the tournament also suffers from a general lack of awareness, and some MLS teams don't make the tournament a priority, often fielding reserve sides in the competition's early rounds.

Wright admitted that the USSF doesn't have all the answers in terms of growing the tournament, and that not all games are able to be broadcast. But, now that the USSF's commercial rights are in-house, the Open Cup is now "front and center." To that end, the USSF will be holding a U.S. Open Cup Summit later this summer in a bid to increase the event's profile.

At that point Garber chimed in, stating that, though Wright's group was "doing as best you can with this tournament," the games are hard to find for viewers -- including himself -- and are played on subpar fields.

"I would say that they're not games that we would want our product to be shown to a large audience," he said. "So frankly, I'm not all that disappointed that the audience is small. So I appreciate the enthusiasm about it, but we need to get better with the U.S. Open Cup. It's just not the proper reflection of what soccer in America at the professional level needs to be."

Wright was largely in agreement with Garber's assessment.

"I think we concur," he said. "We understand that the Open Cup is not where we all want it to be, and we're committed to getting there. It also takes resources and something that we're spending a lot of time thinking about.

"I think it is a natural opportunity to take a step back now, particularly that we've got renewed interest from media partners, which I think is a critical component to this. But you're right to call out. There's other areas of the property that we've got to continue to hone in and refine as we think to the future."

Garber responded by saying, "We look forward to participating with you on that."

The current edition of the U.S. Open Cup is at the round-of-32 stage, with 24 of the 26 eligible MLS teams still in contention. The final will be held Sept. 27. The winner will earn $300,000 in prize money and a berth in the 2024 CONCACAF Champions League.