This is what the drunk Kickers mascot looks like in the wild. Hunter and Kickaroo from The Richmond Kickers. Photo by Dave Center, licensed CC-BY, http://flic.kr/p/7ZCiKq
The US Open Cup is a strange animal, pitting MLS teams who often don't care about the tournament against lower levels teams who are often playing their biggest match of the year. This allows for the type of results we have seen this year, where half of the MLS teams have lost, and where an amateur team has made it through to the quarterfinals. If you don't like this tournament, you may as well hate the American Dream and other such staples of underdogs. But when facing such a disparity, how do the supposedly better teams react?
One of Ben Olsen's first quotes after the end of the game was "we survived, and that's what you do in the Open Cup." With the Richmond Kickers "revved up and fighting for their lives," Ben Olsen's stated goal was to keep it close and win in in the end, which is what D.C. United did, albeit far later than anyone would have preferred. All of this has me thinking that the game against the Philadelphia Union, while perhaps not easier in an absolute sense, will a least be more predictable than the game against the Richmond Kickers. Although, thinking more about it, is Piotr Nowak ever predictable?
Lewis Neal has a different perspective on this tournament than most of the members of D.C. United, having played for Orlando City FC on the other side of this equation last year. His experience mirrors Ben Olsen's view on the Open Cup, saying that a game for a lower division team against an MLS side is like a cup final for them. He also has a different perspective because this was his first ever start at left back. After some early struggles, he seemed to settle in and he got help against the Kickers' speedy winger, Edson Elcock. Also interesting to me was the fact that he was instructed to get forward, and not worry just about defending. I'm sure against an MLS opponent his instructions would be different, but I like the fact that Ben Olsen has such confidence in his players to urge them to get forward even when they are new to a defensive position.
What do you all think? Do you like the Open Cup, or is it a burden that distracts from the true goal of the MLS season? Is this an accurate assessment of the relationship between lower division teams and MLS ones, or is it harsh on the Kickers?