New England Soccer Today

Hello, Neumann

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/capturedimages.biz

Welcome back to the latest installment of “Hello Neumann,” where former Revolution midfielder Steve Neumann joins us to offer his perspective on the state of American soccer and MLS.

In this edition, Steve talks about the U.S. Open Cup from the player’s perspective, and along with some of his favorite memories from past tournaments.

NESoccerToday: As someone who’s played in the tournament, do Open Cup games really have a different feel to them than league games? If so, what’s the biggest difference?

Steve: Yes, they certainly do have a different feel. A lot of the time, the games are held at smaller, more intimate venues which is a great change of pace for the players and fans. It’s also a exciting tournament for lower division teams to compete against elite competition.

I remember playing in the Open Cup with my PDL team, Reading United, in the summer breaks during my college days at Georgetown. One year, we advanced far enough to play against NYRB’s at Red Bull Arena. And although we lost and the stadium was near-empty, it was a still a great experience for a bunch of impressionable college players with professional aspirations.

What’s the vibe like in practice when that first Open Cup game approaches? It seems that many of the younger guys are especially eager to make their case for minutes during training.

Steve: The preparation is no different from any other week to be honest. Players are constantly battling for minutes throughout the season whether there is an MLS playoff game that weekend or an Open Cup first round game.

You are correct, however, that for guys who aren’t getting regular first-team minutes in MLS play, the Open Cup provides an important opportunity to prove themselves. Especially at clubs like New England where there isn’t a well-organized affiliation club to speak of, the Open Cup is a chance to perform well in meaningful minutes in front of your own coaching staff and potentially earn more MLS minutes as a result.

What are some of the challenges unique to the tournament that the players and the coaching staff encounter?

Steve: I think there are always injury concerns and teams must manage minutes of starters that log a ton of minutes throughout the season. Coaches often field a team in the early rounds of the tournament that blends starters who are sharp from consistent playing time with reserves who are eager to prove themselves.

As players, it’s important to take Open Cup opponents seriously, especially in the first couple rounds of the tournament. The lower division clubs are always gunning for the MLS teams – and I know this because I was in that position myself not so long ago. Similar to the FA Cup in England, there’s always a chance for a pub league team to step into the spotlight and pull off some upsets (Lincoln City played that role this year making it all the way to the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup).

I’d imagine your goal against Richmond in the 2014 tournament stands out as a great memory. In addition to that goal, what are some other Open Cup moments that you remember vividly?

Steve: It was a running joke around the locker room that we were always guaranteed a few weather delays during Open Cup games. A few that come to mind are the dust storm that rolled through Talen Energy Stadium (PPL Park at that time) during our game against the Union. Another was the multi-hour lightning delay that we waiting through when we played down in North Carolina against the Rail Hawks. I’m pretty sure that game didn’t end until around midnight – wayyy past my bedtime.

Another vivid memory was making it to the U.S. Open Cup final in Dallas my third season in New England. Although we couldn’t hold onto an early lead, that was a great experience.

If you could one make one (or two) changes to the current tournament setup, what would they be?

Steve: Increase the prize money!

No, really. More prize money would incentivize the players to take the tournament more seriously. This would mean a better product on the field, better atmosphere at the games and increased revenue for the league. Everybody wins! (I’m sure all my former teammates would also agree!)

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