It's not only the media that have to be sold on the U.S. Open Cup, it's the fans.
The combined attendance for Tuesday night's four quarterfinal games in the nation's oldest soccer competition totaled a miserable 18,515, and that's assuming the 8,439 count at RFK Stadium was accurate. Some at the game in Washington said the crowd was only half that size.
The Open Cup, dating from 1914, is a U.S. Soccer event, not a Major League Soccer competition, and the federation doesn't put nearly enough effort into promoting it.
The single-elimination competition's timing, coming in the middle of the MLS season, creates confusion, even though league and cup competitions run simultaneously throughout the rest of the soccer world.
A far better plan would be to have the MLS regular season produce the league champion, based on a single 12-team division with each team playing the other 11 once at home and once away and eliminating the playoffs.
That would make MLS regular-season games far more meaningful, and increase interest and attendance accordingly.
It would also shorten the MLS season from 28 games to 22 (although when the league expands in 2003 the number would rise again) and would leave time for MLS teams to take part in the Open Cup's final rounds after the league season.
The 12 teams could join the four A-League or Premier Development League survivors from earlier rounds in the Open Cup's final 16. Or perhaps the top eight MLS teams could be thrown into the pot with the top eight minor league survivors.
Either way, there still would be an MLS champion and an Open Cup winner, and the truncated league season would permit sparsely attended midweek games to be eliminated and allow clubs time to schedule more crowd-pleasing international opponents.
It's worth considering.
Saving the Day
It was Kevin Hartman's save of a Wade Barrett penalty kick that earned the Galaxy its 10-9 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes in the Open Cup quarterfinals after the teams spent two hours playing to a 1-1 tie.
That save, plus the penalty kick save Hartman made against the Miami Fusion two weeks ago, is likely to have Coach Sigi Schmid leaning toward naming Hartman as his starting goalkeeper in the stretch run to the MLS playoffs.
Matt Reis has done nothing to lose the job, but it's time Schmid made up his mind.
Chicago Fire forward Hristo Stoitchkov, explaining why he had blasted a penalty kick wide to the right of the net against Dallas on Saturday:
"I saw a kid over there, so I passed him the ball."
Senegal's qualification for the 2002 World Cup could be bad news for the Tampa Bay Mutiny, which might lose leading scorer Mamadou Diallo for a month or more next year if he is called up by the national team. . . . Former Galaxy midfielder Roy Myers of Costa Rica suffered a season-ending injury when he tore a ligament in his left knee while playing for the New York/New Jersey MetroStars against D.C. United. . . . New York/New Jersey still is seeking a replacement for injured forward Clint Mathis, with former Metro-
Star Giovanni Savarese of Venezuela and former Mutiny forward Musa Shannon the names most frequently mentioned. . . . D.C. United Coach Thomas Rongen is in the final year of a contract that pays him more than $200,000 a year and the Washington Post speculates that U.S. Under-17 national team Coach John Ellinger might be offered the job if Rongen's contract is not renewed. . . . Tom Neale, 31, the Earthquakes' general manager, will leave the club after Saturday's MLS All-Star game in San Jose to become chief operating officer of the MetroStars.