In the past week the Dynamo played two matches, losing them both. Neither was a league match but one mattered and the other, well that's open to debate. Houston's disappointing 1-0 loss in the US Open Cup to the San Antonio Scorpions was another reminder of how low that tournament appears to lie on the priority list for the team. Despite offering a chance at a trophy and a spot in next year's CONCACAF Champions League, it was an opportunity cast away.
Meanwhile later in the week, the Dynamo hosted Valencia in a friendly match at BBVA Compass Stadium. It drew a decent crowd and was by all accounts an entertaining match, but it mattered not towards anything other than a chance for players to keep their form during this short break in the schedule.
I understand the need for these type of mid-season friendlies, I get the benefits and the name recognition it can provide for the team, but that doesn't mean I have to like them. That's the reason there was no preview, game thread or review of the match here on the blog. Complain if you want, but I refuse to exert energy towards a match that has zero importance towards the team winning trophies.
My views on this are well played out, I want the team to focus on winning cups over these meaningless friendlies. I've of course accepted the truth that that will never happen, but it's still a topic that stirs debate. With that in mind, I asked the writers here on Dynamo Theory to offer their thoughts about the debate of friendly matches vs. meaningful ones, or more specifically, the US Open Cup.
First, the US Open Cup has two levels of value. One, it is historically significant, a living link to all phases of the history of the game in this country. Playing in it makes your team the latest in a long line of amateur, semi-pro and pro teams that have dotted the pastiche of the soccer landscape as long as the game has existed on these shores. It is the second-longest-lasting cup tournament in the game's history, behind only the FA Cup. The game on these shores has so many examples of outright stupidity and wastefulness, way more failures than successes and a haze of mediocrity, but the US Open Cup Tournament is by so many measures a historical success, one of the few we have.
Secondly, in a here-and-now kind of way, the US Open Cup is way more than a historically significant trophy. It is far and away the easiest route to a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League, as the Seattle Sounders have discovered. The Sounders have played in the CCL every year of their current MLS existence (save the first), ad the reason is because they have stressed USOC play, winning that tournament three years running. In an environment where the best teams in the country, namely MLS squads (this week's bloodbath notwithstanding) do not stress the tournament, playing reserve sides that seem to express low levels of motivation, a highly-motivated first-team side should be able to waltz, relatively speaking, not only to the title but to the CCL. That is quite a prize, like opening a box of Cracker Jacks and finding a gold bar. The USOC has rewards, both tangible and intangible, that merit the risk of injury and schedule congestion.
International friendlies, however, are a different matter. Midseason friendlies (either international or not), bring only financial rewards for the club or for its charitable arms. These are non-trivial amounts, and Dynamo Charities relies on that money to accomplish its various, beneficial ends. And it's important to note that fact -- as well as that they can from time to time be fun -- before I damn these friendlies in all other ways. Midseason international friendlies, on the field, are an almost complete waste, distracting the players as well as the team's time and attention. Winning these produces no tangible benefit, and instead the games carry with them risks to the players' body and health. Monterrey did Corey Ashe's knee in the first Dynamo Charities' Cup game in 2009, robbing the club of a key player in the heart of its late-season run to the playoffs. Ashe was back in time for the Western Final loss to the Galaxy in the Multiple Power Outage Bowl, but not 100 percent. And for what?
And the thing is, the Ashe story should be considered something of a cautionary tale. At some point, some player is going to have a serious, serious injury in one of MLS' ever-growing raft of international friendlies, and a career is going to end for no reason at all. And in its inherent avoidability, that would truly be tragic, stupid and a travesty of justice.
So in summary of this long-lasting and -winded e-mail, the US Open Cup is worthwhile both on its face and on deeper examination, while midseason friendlies are not.
To piggy back off what Marty already said, the US Open Cup provides an opportunity to grow in multiple ways -- CCL and also internationally in terms of name recognition. International name recognition in this stage of the league's growth is invaluable, and on an organizational level would be hugely beneficial. If the Dynamo do indeed have their eyes set upon a Central or South American player, then it would bode well to consistently place your team in the best position for international recognition.
Repeated berths into the CONCACAF Champions League would give the Dynamo another avenue of growth which they desperately long for. Imagine, for just a moment, how beneficial it would be if the Dynamo succeeded at winning the USOC, and then with the berth into the CCL, they managed to win a few games placing them as one of the top teams in the tournament/league. Well, now you have recognition from internationals in the very places you are hoping to draw talent from.
Continuing with this train of thought, with name recognition comes a desire to play for a team which is consistently playing in competitions your fellow internationals participate in, and a chance to prove yourself on a FAR bigger stage than just the MLS Cup. Add to that, the possibility of maybe even winning CCL and now you have something huge. You are essentially opening yourself up to the possibility of pipelines to various countries which may not even know who you are otherwise.
As for the midseason "friendlies", they are nothing more than minor fiduciary gains, and an attempt to create a relationship with top clubs overseas. The problem with this line of thinking is very simple. When you want to become a league the world recognizes as having quality talent, and not just constant cast-offs, then you have to present yourself and think of yourself in such terms.
If you are constantly catering to the top tier international clubs, you will always end up being their whipping boys, and you will always end up sending your talent to them. If MLS wants to grow more than they have, then they need to on a league-wide level take international and local competitions much more seriously. Sure, the European model is to send Reserve Squads to all non-league competitions, but then look at what the Chelski's just pulled off and wonder why it's not possible, at the very least.
When given opportunity, you can't squander it repeatedly and hope you can make up for it elsewhere. You must embrace the opportunity, put your best foot forward, and allow yourself room to grow. MLS must do this, and must begin to take USOC and even CCL more seriously, and start treating non-League competitions as legit opportunities to grow. Not as just a chance to see how your reserves and trialists can fare. These aren't training sessions, they ARE important.
Any type of hardware is good hardware, so why do we not even field a competitive squad for a game that could send us along in a tournament with a nice big trophy and some prize money? While for a friendly that is utterly meaningless we field a lineup mainly comprised of starters. We should have fielded those players for the cup game, because it is our version of the FA Cup, though ours is much less prestigious.
Still, I, along with many Dynamo supporters would like to see another trophy in the trophy case besides the MLS Cup. There are only four cups we can possibly get-- MLS Cup, Supporters Shield, Champions League , and US Open Cup. Unless our owners step up big time, the only trophies we can easily obtain are the MLS Cup and Open Cup. So why not even field a decent squad when you have the chance to get hardware? Beats me.
The only concern I have, and this applies to both, is the fixture crunch we have to deal with this season. With both MLS and CCL, a concerted effort in USOC only adds another match to the ever-growing list of responsibilities for the 1st team. Compounding that fact is the opponents you meet in USOC - playing to prove a point with hard-nosed tackling. Just watching the SASFC match made me hope some players had taken out insurance on their ACLs. However, the value of USOC is obvious, as stated already. It just seems silly how potentially easy it could be to qualify for the CCL if we just tried.
With friendlies, I am always happy to welcome big international clubs to Houston. But as cool as it is to see us playing them, there are two scenarios I would much rather see: 1) meeting these clubs in the CWC or 2) being the club that is recruited to play against another country's team. We are not "there" yet for either of these options, but I would hope that's where we should be shooting. They serve good philanthropic purposes, but I can't imagine players take much from then other than a "I played against X one time..." story.
I guess that brings me back to USOC. While I am confident in us qualifying for the CCL via the MLS Cup, this wont happen every year. The MLS Cup benefits clubs who get hot at the right time. So a real effort in USOC could lead to CCL, where we could eventually win the right to take on Barcelona or someone else in the CWC.
Herc Gomez summed it up a couple days ago:
@PhilSchoen ok.. So start your big boys. Don't stumble. Lift the Cup. Play an INT tourney. Win the Tourney. Go to the Club WC. Repeat ;)— herculez gomez (@herculezg) May 30, 2012
So there you have it, some different viewpoints on a topic that will likely continue to cause debate for a long time to come.
Now for your thoughts. Where do you stand on this issue?