Soccer is our beautiful game and we’ve been lucky to watch as the sport we love has grown across the United States. But there’s a big hole in the landscape, at least on the women’s side of the game.
One national soccer tradition which U.S. Soccer Federation has been able to establish over the years is the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. For those not familiar with the Open Cup, it is the world’s third longest running open soccer tournament for men going back to 1914 and the US hasn’t missed a year since its inception. Considering U.S. Soccer was established in 1913, this tournament has been a part of soccer in the United States from the very beginning of its history.
What is an Open Cup?
As an open tournament, soccer teams from every level can enter the competition, meaning all amateur and professional soccer teams affiliated with U.S. Soccer can take part; as an example, this year’s tournament saw Christos FC, an amateur team named after a liquor store, take on DC United from Major League Soccer in the Fourth Round after beating professional teams from the lower divisions. The Round of 16 recently ended and Miami FC of the North American Soccer League (NASL) and FC Cincinnati of the United Soccer League (USL) both beat teams in MLS. The excitement and uniqueness of the Open Cup generate interest from the national soccer community, which is a key objective of the USSF. So much so that this is codified within the federation’s by-laws.
The purpose of U.S. Soccer’s existence is “to promote, govern, coordinate, and administer the growth and development of soccer in all its recognized forms in the United States for all persons …” and “to provide for national cup competitions.” Time to get on my soapbox now because that’s all fine and dandy for the men’s soccer, but why hasn’t U.S. Soccer created an open cup for women’s soccer if that’s been a proven way the federation has grown and developed soccer for the men’s side? The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is such a vital part of U.S. Soccer that it’s the second policy listed in the manual. USSF wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel to create a women’s open cup; everything required to run the annual competition is already spelled out for them.
The closest thing in America to a women’s open cup was the National Women’s Open organized by United States Adult Soccer Association, an affiliate of U.S. Soccer, since 1996 played mostly by amateur or semi-pro teams, but the USSF plays no role in this tournament. The event was a part of USASA’s Adult Soccer Fest. However, 2016 was the last year of the competition; there will be no National Women’s Open in 2017 because of the lack of participation. Last year, only four women’s teams competed in this national tournament. Full disclosure, it wasn’t until I did research for this story that I had ever heard of that tournament, so not getting participation may be blamed on a lack of awareness. In comparison, there was a modern era record of 99 teams taking part in this year’s U.S. Open Cup.
Are There Enough Women’s Soccer Teams to Hold an Open Cup?
So, is that the reason? Has the Federation chosen not to hold a women’s competition because there’s only the small group of ten NWSL teams able to qualify to participate if there was a women’s USOC?
The short answer is no.
Of course not. There are plenty of teams available and qualified to partake in this kind of tournament.
Women’s soccer is comprised of far more than just the NWSL in the United States. There are actually three major women’s soccer leagues in the U.S. The professional league is the NWSL, but the other two operate on a mixed professional/amateur level. Currently, the oldest active women’s soccer league is the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL), which was formed in 1998. According to the WPSL website there are 112 teams in the league. Some NWSL teams such as the Breakers and Red Stars have reserve teams that play in the WPSL. The second women’s league is United Women’s Soccer (UWS), which was formed in 2016 after the W-League (yes, there was a W-League in the U.S.) ceased operation in 2015. UWS has 20 teams in the 2017 season and includes the Western New York Flash, which joined the league after their NWSL team was moved to North Carolina and rebranded as the NC Courage. (Imagine a competition where Western NY Flash could face the North Carolina Courage!) Both WPSL and UWS are sanctioned by U.S. Soccer through USASA.
With just these three leagues, there are a potential 142 teams that could participate in an Open Cup format tournament for women, and that’s not including the rec teams that could also throw their boots into the ring. Yet the USSF still hasn’t set up an open cup for women.
Would a US Women’s Open Cup Be the First in the World?
Historically, U.S. Soccer has been forward-thinking in the women’s competition. But if they established a Women’s Cup, would they be the first? Would there be other similar competitions for women’s soccer teams they could model one after?
In fact, there are several women’s cup competitions across the globe in a similar format of different leagues competing for a trophy. One of the better-known competitions is held in England. Created in 1970, the FA Women’s Cup is an equivalent to the FA Cup for men. Our own Carli Lloyd scored a goal in the final as Manchester City beat Birmingham City at Wembley Stadium. On the Continent, Germany holds the Frauen DFB-Pokal which pits clubs from the first two divisions of the Bundesliga and has existed since 1981. Even countries like Brazil have women’s cup tournaments like the Copa do Brasil de Futebol Feminino, founded in 2007. And Alex Morgan’s French team, Olympique Lyon, won the Coupe de France Féminine in May. That competition in France was first played in 2001. Other women’s cup tournaments include ones established in Russia (1992), New Zealand (1994), and Japan (1979) to name a few.
The Time is Now
The federation has an Open Cup committee which is responsible “for conducting the Open Cup, and for the direction of the Open Cup.” According to the U.S. Soccer website, the six-person committee has one female member, Siri Mullinix. At this point, it’s almost fairer to state that U.S. Soccer is more neglectful to club soccer for women because we don’t realize that more can be done. Establishing a competitive Open Cup for women’s soccer should have been included on the USSF’s yearly agenda by now, but it has failed to follow its own by-laws.
I’ll get off my soapbox in a second, but U.S. Soccer, do better. How about creating a competition that doesn’t just involve the national team like SheBelieves or the Tournament of Nations, and join the rest of the world in holding an annual event for women’s clubs in the U.S.? You can’t even imagine what this will inspire in the fans of the beautiful game.