Begging ESPN+

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If you’re like me, and watched the opening round of the US Open Cup these last couple of days, you had to be struck may the excellence of the matches. In just two nights of matches, we had:

  1. 5 matches out 19 ended in penalty kicks. That’s almost 25% of the matches played were even for 120 minutes!

  2. A second-year UPSL side beat the reigning champion of the NPSL and who will be going pro in just a few months.

  3. A club from a tiny regional league in the Denver area knocked off a strong NPSL club with a winning shot by a defender in the last 2 minutes of the match.

  4. A club get cheated out of a match-tying goal on a bogus off sides call.

  5. Forward Madison, one of the most talked about expansion sides in recent memory, make their Open Cup debut.

And all of this was seen through the lens of ESPN+, an online channel available for single digit monthly costs, with announcers, multiple camera angles, and a level of professionalism rarely seen in the home-made broadcasts most of the clubs in the first round are typically viewed. It was glorious, top to bottom, every match had a storyline, a great ending, or some other element that made it worth watching. So after this first round is finally complete, I only have one question. Why didn’t ESPN+ air the qualifiers?

If you missed seeing those matches, they were, in some instances broadcasted by the clubs themselves. But many were not, leaving interested fans scrambling to social media for updates on matches. The final round of qualifiers were actually banned from broadcasting, leaving the only option for updates to follow someone at the match online. I was one of the lucky ones to be at one of those matches and saw FC Denver come back from a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3 over Southwest FC in extra time. So watching that same Denver club finish off the Laredo Heat had a tremendous amount of context. When that defender hit that swirling, curving game-winner, I recognized him from that 4th round qualifier. I knew his quality and the quality of his club so I watched their first round match against Laredo, knowing they were capable of coming back later in a match.

So please, ESPN+, make the investment and air the qualifying matches. Need a list of reasons? Allow me to offer mine.

  1. The matches are entertaining and will bring viewers into the Cup proper because they will be rooting for the underdogs.

  2. There’s an audience for those matches! People are fans of lower league soccer, they will watch the matches.

  3. It’s good for the game. Maybe that’s not ESPN+ driving idea, but the more soccer matches there are, the better it is for the growth of the sport. It drives interest and sparks young fans to get involved in the game.

So that’s my plea, ESPN+, next year give us the qualifying rounds as well. We’ll be thankful forever.

- Dan Vaughn