Photo: wdwalsh, Flickr Creative Commons
My 5-year-old-son is crying in the kitchen right now because he just found out that the Atlanta Silverbacks game against the Seattle Sounders of the MLS has been moved to Washington. We'd been talking about making a party of it if the Silverbacks beat the Georgia Revolution last night and earned their home field advantage in the third round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup for a week now. Winning wasn't the problem. He sat on my lap as stoppage time ended and Atlanta won the second round 1-0. He went to bed assuming that he was going to the game next Tuesday.
While he was asleep, the Silverbacks posted to their Twitter account: "The venue for the Silverbacks/Sounders third-round U.S. Open Cup has changed. Details here. More to come tomorrow too." At first, I assumed that the game had been popular enough and the prospect of seeing an MLS team in the South so compelling in Atlanta that the Silverbacks had decided to move the game to a larger stadium in town. That would have been awesome. There was a link with that Twitter post, so I clicked it to find out what I could.
It turns out that Seattle paid the Silverbacks an undisclosed sum of money so they could host the game closer to home. To make it more insulting, the Sounders chose a stadium in the Seattle suburbs that's even smaller than the Silverbacks' 5,000 seater.
At first, I was furious at the Sounders. After all, they're the big money team using their soggy wads of cash to ruin things for fans in a soccer backwater. By the time I went to bed an hour after the announcement I was furious with the Silverbacks. After all, they could have turned down the money. I posted to Twitter just before I went to bed that I may have been to my last Silverbacks game.
After sleeping on it for a few hours last night, I'm a little more level-headed. I'm not sure I'm giving up on the Silverbacks. I've developed a like for the sport this spring, and while I'm not ready yet to say it's true love, I do want to support the local teams. I am still disappointed in them because I think they made a bad decision. Here's why: I'm sure the money they got is useful. A minor league soccer team probably isn't rolling around in a sea of gold coins like Scrooge McDuck. They probably have lots of things they could use the cash infusion to help with to improve the team or their facilities. However, if you look at the comments on their Facebook post about this, you can tell I'm not the only one who's upset. Not only do the Silverbacks lose out on the publicity, excitement and good will that hosting the Sounders would have brought, they also created a lot of ill will by accepting the money and sending their guys cross country.
Still, they're a pro team, meaning they're a business. Their job is to keep the club financially viable. They chose to take the money. They didn't really do anything wrong; I just think refusing the money would have paid off more in the long term with the locals.
As for the Sounders, sleep softened my opinion of them even more. The Sounders have won this tournament three years in a row and are one of only a few MLS teams that genuinely care about it. Several of the teams send a group of their scrubs and will lose to teams well below them on the US soccer pyramid. Seattle's treatment of the tournament is a good thing. I really like this idea where teams representing all levels of the pyramid from amateurs to the big leagues get a chance to play. For example, Cal FC, an amateur club, will be playing the Portland Timbers next week. Could you imagine a beer league softball team getting a chance to play the Atlanta Braves? Sure, they'd get destroyed, but how many of those teams would turn down the chance to just show up? And if I like the fact that Seattle takes the tournament seriously, I have to respect the fact that they care enough to do what is legal for them to do to get home field advantage. This keeps their players from having to travel mid week in the middle of their MLS season and makes it less likely that they'll get upset by the minor league team. I'm okay with this. The Sounders don't owe anything at all to the Silverbacks fans.
Who I'm really pissed at this morning are the organizers of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. In theory the draw was created this year to create exactly what was supposed to happen in Atlanta. Some of these small teams were supposed to host MLS teams. I can only assume they thought this was a good way to promote the sport, because it is. If that's the case, however, then why create the loop hole that makes it possible for the MLS teams to buy home field advantage back? How can you expect those teams to not take advantage of that? The only explanation I can think of is that they wanted to make the smaller teams some money by being able to sell home field advantage. Otherwise, they were just ridiculously naive.
Finally, I am working under a couple of assumptions that may be wrong and would greatly change how I felt about this situation:
- I'm assuming that the Sounders paid Atlanta for the home field rights. If it turns out that the money went to the US Open Cup organization, I'm going to really be furious (but no longer angry at the Silverbacks in the least.)
- I'm assuming that the Silverbacks had the option to turn down the money. It could be that the rules stated that if a certain amount was offered for home field, it had to be accepted.
- I'm also assuming that the Silverbacks aren't going to use the money they got from the Sounders to charter a jet to take all of the fans who had reserved tickets before the announcement to Seattle for the game. This is a very safe assumption, but if I'm wrong, I'll definitely forgive the Silverbacks their deeds. I'm very easily bribed with free trips to Seattle. Consider this a very strong hint Silverbacks. You fly me to Seattle (and back) and I'm yours forever.
My son, on the other hand, will get over this, probably by the end of the day. I just hope the other fans of the Silverbacks can follow his lead. I'd like to see the sport grow in the South and not whither and die because of a few stupid decisions. If the US Open Cup doesn't realize that they screwed up the rules this year and fix it for next year, however, I don't have the same reasons to remain loyal to them.