The National Amateur Cup. Legitimately one of the oldest and most prestigious Cup competitions in the world, in existence since 1923. And yet, no one really knows it's happening. Why is this?
Easy. The Dark Ages of American Soccer plunged it into near irrelevance. But the advent of the internet and amateur leagues like the PDL, NPSL, and UPSL should have drawn more attention and teams to the competition. Yet it didn't. Why?
Because the Cup competition itself is not being treated like a proper Cup competition, especially one for amateur teams. Midweek games requiring multiple hours of travel. Weekend long qualifying tournaments with dozens of teams participating. Convoluted qualification processes that are supposed to be handled by Adult Soccer State Associations that have no websites, no phone numbers, and people leading them who still use AOL email addresses.
So how do we fix this? How do we make this The Greatest Show In American Soccer? Let me propose two paths. One in which the power is primarily in the hands of the States, and one in which the power is primarily in the hands of the United States Adult Soccer Association.
1. The States Rise Up
Currently, there are 55 Adult Soccer State Associations. There are 50 State Cup Champions (Well, there should be). One of the easiest ways to fix the National Amateur Cup is to utilize what's already there, and elevate it at the same time. The State Cups.
Just imagine. Every State Cup now has serious potential. You want to win it. Not only is there a trophy and a prize, but you're moving into the National Amateur Cup. Now, you'll be playing other State Cup winners from within your region to determine who makes the NAC Semifinals.
Now, the USASA Regions, 1, 2, 3, and 4, cover a lot of geographic space. Travel can be a brutal killer for amateur teams operating on a shoe string. How do we mitigate this cost? Aside from USASA itself and the Regions chipping in a little to help with travel costs, you break each Region down into semi-regions to keep travel low as long as possible.
I'll use my own Region, 2, as an example. You would break it down as follows for the First Round of the NAC.
South Dakota v North Dakota
Minnesota v Wisconsin
Nebraska v Iowa
Kansas v Missouri
Indiana v Michigan
Illinois v Kentucky
(N.Ohio and S.Ohio get a Bye)
The Second Round would be as follows.
SD/ND v MN/WI
NE/IA v KS/MO
IL/KY v IN/MI
S.OH v N.OH
SD/ND/MN/WI v NE/IA/KS/MO
IL/IN/KY/MI v N.OH/S.OH
SD/ND/MN/WI/NE/IA/KS/MO winner v IL/IN/KY/MI/N.OH/S.OH winner
This helps keep travel reasonable until the Third and Final rounds for the teams involved. The Regional Final would be played in central location, as much as possible, based on the winners of the East and West Semi Regions.
Now you have your Regional Champions preparing to face off over 4 days for the National Amateur Cup, with the Final being played on a long weekend, on Labor Day. Some of the more practical things, like roster sizes, scheduling and live streaming, will be addressed in potential fix #2.
2. The USASA Takes Control
This might be the easiest way for the National Amateur Cup to fully flourish into what it could be. Right now, in Region 2, you register directly with USASA. All Regions could do this. Now, the door is open to more teams from more places. No more 9 games in 3 days Region 3 Qualifying Tournaments. No more even being able to enter because you have no State Cup in Region 4. Everything goes through USASA itself.
Now, here are the things USASA needs to do, once they take control, to help this Cup grow and flourish.
1. Mandatory Live Streaming: Don't know how? USASA will provide you with a handy how to guide. Can't do it? Well, guess you can't enter or you just got disqualified. Seem harsh? Read the next point.
2. Naming Rights Sponsor. Don't tell me some of the existing USASA sponsors wouldn't throw a few thousand extra dollars to make this the Allstate National Amateur Cup. But that really only works out for them if all the teams involved are live streaming and promoting their Cup games.
3. Naming Rights Money To The Prize Pool. Allstate just paid $10K for naming rights? Well now you add that to prize money at the end. Now it's $20K to the champion.
4. Drop the Steinbrecher Cup. You don't need this glorified Amateur Champions League in a weekend long cup format. Drop it. Don't half ass two things, whole ass one thing.
5. Expand Roster Sizes. 22 players is way too few for an amateur side, and seriously limits the number of teams that enter. NPSL and USL Two sides don't enter because most of them don't have players this early in the year. Expanding rosters would allow them to field a team so they can actually enter, and add to it as needed. Is it perfect, letting a team get stronger as the Cup goes on? Not really, but getting these teams involved immediately raises the profile of the entire competition.
6. Schedule All April/May Games On Weekends, June/July Games Midweek. Most leagues don't start until summer, so doing this makes trips and preparation easier. And when summer starts and teams start playing more college age kids who can travel midweek, it's the same thing.
7. Have A Scheduled Final Weekend. 4th of July would be great, but not really realistic. But picking a weekend that's always the Final helps teams plan better.
8. Rotate Host Cities. Really, Region 2, being the heartland, is the Region that should most consistently host, not discounting centrally located major metro areas in the other Regions, like Atlanta, Nashville, Philadelphia, New York, Phoenix, or Las Vegas. An easy 8 year rotation would see you go Kansas City, Atlanta, St Louis, Las Vegas, Chicago, New York, Minneapolis, Nashville.
Well there you go. The Greatest Potential Show in American Soccer. What do you think? What do you like, what do you dislike? What would you do differently? Let me know in the comments!