I spent the weekend in Chicago and, yet, for the first time in over a decade, I had no interest in trying to catch a Cubs game -- even when it would have allowed for my first trip to the Cell. Most of the rationale for the lack of enthusiasm is that the Cubs are just not interesting to watch. And it doesn't help that, with notable exceptions, the typical contemporary Chicago sportswriter is a douchebag. Phil Rogers' latest inflammatory piece on waiving Zambrano is typical of the condition of the city's press: an otherwise uninteresting writer takes a cheap shot at a player who has been a central part of the team's return to respectability and this is news. Yawn.
While I eschewed a trip to the southside, I hustled through work to catch a ride up to UMBC to watch Crystal Palace Baltimore host Real Maryland. The game was disappointing -- nine yellow cards were issued, capped by a petulant Ryan Cordeiro nearly killing his team by getting tossed two steps before crossing the touch line after being subbed out. After starting the year thinking that Crystal Palace had a chance at dominating the USL2 and Real Maryland would once again be stuck at the bottom, the tables have turned. Although they were tied on the league table (with RM having two games in hand over CP) Real Maryland looks to be a decent side and Crystal Palace is searching for an identity -- its frightening to imagine where they might be if not for Shin Harada.
Nevertheless, the game was fun, if only for Val Teixeira's colorful berating of a linesman ("You're a f**king wanker") and the good humor with which the official shrugged off the insult. Even if the game wasn't pretty, the talent level at the lower divisions is certainly improving (if only glacially). And for proof, look no further then tonight's results in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup. Major League Soccer teams won two of six games, with Columbus, Chicago, Chivas, and New England all being booted out by lower division teams. USL1 squads won two (Charleston and Rochester) and lost one. Minnesota was the unlucky USL1 team -- currently 1-7-4 in second division league play -- falling to Kansas City on penalty kicks after battling to a 3-3 tie. USL2 teams (Wilmington and Harrisburg City) were undefeated and Harrisburg City will move on to play DC United at the Soccerplex next Tuesday night. The last time these two teams met in the Cup, in 2007, the Islanders knocked United out of the tournament in the third round.
Two more third round games have yet to be played and the final two MLS teams left in the third round face difficult odds. Houston travels to Austin and Seattle to Portland in what should be highly entertaining games.
Last year, when DC United won the Open Cup, only three lower level teams made the quarterfinals (Charleston, Seattle, and Crystal Palace Baltimore), in 2005 only two teams went through to this stage (Rochester and Minnesota), and in 2006, no lower level teams made the quarterfinals. In 2007, only three MLS teams made the quarterfinals, so this isn't totally unprecedented, but it is still pretty amazing. Since MLS teams began playing in the Open Cup in 1996, a lower division team has won the tournament only once (Rochester in 1999), but there would appear to be a decent chance that this year's final will, like last year, feature at least one second or third division side (if not two).