The rumor (Update: It's false - see bottom of this post) that the US Open Cup winner won't receive a spot in next year's CONCACAF Champions League has been bouncing around for quite some time. Until now, it's all been speculation, with much of it emanating from Adrian Hanauer out in Seattle. Though the confederation has still yet to confirm the rumor, you can add the Crew's technical director Brian Bliss to those who say it probably won't happen.

Let's make this clear, because there seems to be a belief out there that this is a done deal. Joshua Mayers of the Seattle Times tweeted a link to Columbus Dispatch writer Shawn Mitchell's story, and now all hell has broken loose (relatively speaking, of course).

Here's the relevant passage from Mitchell's story:

Although a CONCACAF spokesman said no decision has been made, Crew technical director Brian Bliss, a member of multiple MLS competition subcommittees, said the Champions League spot previously reserved for the Open Cup champion will instead be awarded to the MLS team with the highest regular-season point total that does not participate in the MLS Cup or win the Supporters' Shield.

Emphasis would be mine.

With that in mind, that the decision is not final and that Bliss is hazarding his best guess of what might/will happen, let's pretend as though this is fact.

What is the fall out if the Open Cup winner is not given a CCL spot next year (and presumably beyond)?

First, it eliminates any American non-MLS side from making it to the Champions League. That hasn't happened yet under the new format of the regional tournament, but this change would guarantee that is could never happen. That might not be a serious issue if there was more separation between MLS and second division sides, or if second division teams in Canada (Montreal, currently, plus Edmonton or whomever else is added to the Voyageur's Cup) and the Caribbean (Puerto Rico) playing US-based leagues didn't have a distinct path to the Champions League.

Essentially, the lower division teams in the US are being punished for being American.

There is a question as to whether or not this is "unfair" in any real sense. Regional competitions elsewhere do not generally include second division (or lower) teams, so CONCACAF has been unique in that regard. The fractious nature of the region, the strange dynamics of relative quality, and need for teams outside of the US to lean on American leagues creates an odd situation where teams like Montreal and Puerto Rico can enter a "Champions League", progress deep into the tournament, and provide belief that their league-mates should have the same right, provided they win their national cup.

From an MLS perspective, the promise of another spot, regardless of who wins the Open Cup, is certainly a good thing. And if the league is serious about making inroads in the tournament, then placing the top point-getter that doesn't play in the MLS Cup Final in the Champions League will usually mean that team will be a strong entry. MLS parity doesn't guarantee that, of course, but it's about as close as the league is going to get.

A further consequence of elimination the Champions League spot as a prize for winning the Open Cup would be the further marginalization of the latter. MLS teams are already often loathe to take the tournament seriously considering their meager resources, and removal of the only real carrot (the $100,000 prize not being much of one) would just make it more likely that the MLS clubs will "sit it out" for lack of a better description.

Without a Champions League spot on the line, what impetus is there for the likes of the Crew or the Sounders to put out their front line starters in a real effort to win the game with the stretch run of the MLS season and the crucible of the playoffs just around the corner? A trophy is a trophy, and the romantic notion is that teams should want to win it no matter the prize; unfortunately, and despite the history, the Open Cup does not carry that weight nor are MLS teams (especially if the finalists are both playoffs contenders) willing to prioritize it.

I'm not certain that the Champions League spot not going to the winner will ultimately be a bullet to the brain of the US Open Cup.  I think it would be difficult to hobble that tournament any more than it already is, and I'm certain that US Soccer will do just about the minimum necessary to keep it alive, including dictating that MLS teams take part.  I'd like to imagine that Sounders fans, at the very least, would show up in large numbers to see the Final not matter what ancillary prize came with the trophy.  Fans should want titles, Champions League spot or not.

Again, for emphasis, we can't be sure of anything until CONCACAF makes an announcement.  For now, let's just all assume the winner of tonight's game will be playing in the Champions League next year whether they earn one of the three guaranteed spots (MLS Cup winner, MLS Cup runner-up, Supporters Shield winner) or not.

And would ya look at that - as I finish this post, word comes down the line that this year's winner will get a CCL spot for next year.  See, false alarm.  Oh well. 

UPDATE: I may be a little fuzzy on just how the spots are allocated for the CCL; this from people would indicate that CONCACAF says how many spots the United States gets, and US Soccer determines how to dole out those spots. If that's true, than any change as to the US Open Cup winner's spot is down to US Soccer. Again, if their desire is to see American teams succeed in the tournament, it would make sense to give all of the spots to MLS teams. This is where we hit the "unfair" button, though I'm not entirely sympathetic to the idea that second division sides should have a chance to get into a "Champions League" (though the name itself is not technically correct, just as in Europe and elsewhere).
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