A Reasonable Request
The largest changes begin with the most reasonable requests. How organizations react to those requests will typically rule the way in which those changes are accomplished. But it always begins with a single petitioner, offering up a request.
Motagua NOLA is one of those cornerstone clubs that supports the weight of the American pyramid. Founded in 1984, the organization has worked with kids from all economic backgrounds, finding ways to develop talent and live up to its motto “Every Child Plays, No Matter What.” On its website, the entry form is in English and Spanish, reducing the language obstacle to families that might use English as a second language or not at all. Its men’s team has been a model of consistency, every league it’s participated in, it’s had great success. In the International Soccer League Association New Orleans (ISLANO), Motagua won 6 titles. Now in the Gulf Coast Premier League (GCPL), which spans multiple states in the Gulf area, the club has already won 3 titles since 2014. And its winning hasn’t been limited to its league competitions. Due to its success in local leagues, it entered and won two USASA Region III National Cups (2015 and 2017).
What Motagua is great at is finding a winning balance using players from disparate backgrounds. Tony Martinez, club owner, sums up the mix: “We have a combination of American, English, Brazilian and Honduran born players, most of them have played at the next level and have chosen to pursue the work sector being brokers, physicians, business owners, coaches, and some still in college, yet who love to compete at the highest level possible.” This desire to compete has born itself out in title after title. This is a club that knows how to win, how to put talent together, and generate results. Tony was part of the club as a player for 15 years before transitioning to ownership and his desire to win goes beyond his local league, which is why Motagua competes in the US Open Cup.
It’s not easy for a local club from New Orleans to participate in a national cup that might force a club to travel across the country to play. “USOC is always a challenge for us, we put it on our schedule and always look forward to participating. It is very important to our club for this gives us credibility and notoriety. After competing in the Cup we have been noticed by others within the soccer community and clearly are now well respected.” This is the case for Tony, but also for so many other local clubs across the country. The Cup is seen as a chance to challenge a higher level of competition, to touch gloves with the big boys, to gain the respect of those clubs that you wouldn’t meet or play against otherwise.
But local clubs have been struggling to participate, mostly due to the financial burden they face: travel, accommodations, food and drink, and registration. While Motagua’s qualifying round one opponent was also from GCPL- Port City FC -it was actually the only other club from its league to participate this year. According to Tony, others have participated in the past, but the increasing cost has definitely reduced the numbers who do.
But financial challenges aren’t the only hardship facing traveling USOC competitors. Often, these clubs on the road arrive to find accommodations below the standards put forth by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). It’s not that standards don’t exist, it’s that USSF isn’t ensuring these standards are being met. This concern boiled up in social media after the announcement that Motagua would be traveling to Austin to face Celtic Cowboys Premier for its second round qualifier. An aerial photo of the game site was posted on Twitter with the caption “I pray you understand the sacrifice we make to travel hundreds of miles to play this beautiful game, BUT please ASSURE us we will have Dressing rooms or BATHROOMS to change in. Last year was horrific” followed by a retweet of the same post with another comment, “I don't see any dressing rooms, benches, let alone bathrooms, does this meet the requirements to host a US OPEN CUP Quilifier[sic]??” The passion and concern coming from Motagua isn’t petulant or rude. It almost reads like a cry for help to USSF.
The question that remains unasked is who is at fault if the Onion Creek Soccer Complex for the match doesn’t meet the requirements of the Open Cup? According to U.S. Soccer, Onion Creek was the site for the September 29th first qualifying round match that Celtic Cowboys Premier hosted against San Antonio Runners (CCP won 3-1) and, according to Twitter, is the planned site of the second qualifier against Motagua. While finding a site is up to the hosting club, USSF is still the organization setting and enforcing the standards. In the 2018 Open Cup Handbook, USSF specifies that “the Open Cup Commissioner makes a determination for each venue on whether it has met the requirements.” What are those requirements? Attachment A - U.S. Open Cup Stadium Requirements has an extensive list, which certainly does include “team benches to accommodate 14 personnel per team” and “dressing rooms with working showers (either connected to stadium or in an adjacent structure) for teams.” Austin Parks and Recreation were contacted about the Onion Creek Soccer Complex and, when asked about the existence of on-site bathrooms and changing facilities, responded with a flat “no.” Celtic Cowboys Premier play in the Austin Men’s Soccer Association and fields may be limited on short notice, but delivering a playable field with adequate facilities is expected of every host club. Why USSF isn’t holding teams accountable for their hosting requirements is the larger and more important question.
Tony Martinez does have some ideas on how to improve the Cup, and because he and his club are active participants, maybe the public (and USSF) should be listening. First, (he’s not alone in this proposal), “That they should try to find the methods to get more Amateur teams involved, find a solution to the costs of traveling to assure that their[sic] exist more participation.” Second, to limit qualifiers by state, “We travel to Austin for the 2nd round, if we advance, we will play more than likely another Texas team, so it feels more like a TEXAS STATE Cup than a US OPEN CUP Qualifier.” And finally, the conditions. “Our biggest gripe is that the facilities do not meet the requirements mandated by US OPEN CUP. It is horrific to travel hours at a time, thousand of miles away, to have to succumb to dressing up in the tree lines, a shed, or the rental vans.” When asked for these suggestions, Tony didn’t offer them up with anger or condemnation; as he put it, “I usually stay away from politics.” Sometimes the situation forces reluctant participation in the discussion. For Martinez and Motagua this is where the rubber meets the road, where things are not theoretical or rhetorical. This is reality and things need to change. And the changes they are asking for aren’t unreasonable.
Regardless of these concerns, Motagua will make the drive to Austin on the 20th to face Celtic Cowboys. A club that Tony Martinez points out, “Do well at home and [we] expect this to be a very challenging matchup, yet we are prepared for such challenge for we are a very experienced team.” Focusing on the match and its competitor should be its only concern at this moment. Instead, it has to worry about what it will find in Austin when it arrives for the match. But, like so many tiny clubs from across the country, it will shoulder on because it truly loves the Open Cup.
This site has discussed ways the U.S. Open Cup could improve; from tiny changes in hosting to massive changes in investment strategies. It’s doubtful that USSF is listening to this tiny website. Who it should be listening to, however, is its member clubs, which are sacrificing to participate in this tournament. Just because Motagua plays in the GCPL doesn’t mean that its voice should be ignored by those in power. Just because Celtic Cowboy Premier plays in the AMSA doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be expected to deliver a host site that is to the standards of the tournament. What Motagua is asking for is respect: for its club, its players, and the standards. And that seems like a pretty reasonable request.
Celtic Cowboys Premier has been contacted via social media about this story. The club has responded and that story is here.