Last Tuesday, the Seattle Sounders faced the Portland Timbers in the fourth round of the US Open Cup. Seattle came away with a 2-1 win in Tukwila over their Cascadia rivals.  

Actually…scratch that. Let me rephrase that. 

Last Tuesday, the Seattle Sounders 2 faced the Portland Timbers 2 in the fourth round of the the US Open Cup. Seattle came away with a 2-1 win in Tukwila over their Cascadia rivals.  

The reason I am forced to call this a game between the Sounders 2 and Timbers 2, each team’s USL affiliate, is because those are the players that showed up on the pitch when the whistle was blown.

Out of the 18 players that started in Tuesday’s game, there was a combined 13 MLS starts during the 2017 season among them.

For Portland, homegrown player Marco Farfan earned four starts early on this season but has remained on the bench since April 15th. Backup goalkeeper Jeff Attinella earned three starts this season while primary goalkeeper Jake Gleeson was dealing with a hip injury.

On the other side of the pitch, defender Jordy Delem has started six games for Seattle in the absence of Brad Evans who has just recently entered the starting lineup after battling a calf injury.

These three players were the only representers for the Sounders and Timbers in Tuesday’s game. 

For those not familiar with the history of the US Open Cup, this practice is fairly typical from MLS clubs. Unlike other national soccer tournaments across the world, the US Open Cup has never earned the same level of respect from MLS clubs until the finals are on the imminent horizon. 

Now, I’m not going to say that MLS teams can’t play their reserve players when warranted. If OSA FC had made it past Reno and Sacramento to meet up with the Sounders in the fourth round, then it would be reasonable to play reserves given the recognizable talent gap.

That didn’t happen though. Instead of playing a NASL or USL side like many other MLS clubs in the fourth round, the Sounders were drawn against their arch rival and vice versa for Portland. 

Just imagine for a second if Manchester United and Manchester City met each other in the FA Cup and they only played their reserve players. You can’t because it wouldn’t happen. 

For those curious why this practice is allowed, the MLS and USL have a framework that allows MLS teams to sign players from their USL affiliate on short-term contracts for non-league games. Ahead of Tuesday’s game, Portland announced they had signed eleven Timbers 2 players to these short-term contracts. The Sounders themselves signed nine Sounders 2 players.

Certainly contracts such as this are beneficial if, for example, a team is battling a string of injuries or suspensions and needs immediate lineup support. However, actions such as the one taken by Portland on Tuesday are an egregious abuse of the system.

It’s one thing for Portland to use players they have signed to professional contracts that otherwise haven’t seen that much action, if any, for the Timbers this season, such as Rennico Clarke and Victor Arboleda. It’s another thing to use a system that allows the team to use their USL affiliate as an extended bench. 

International friendlies against Mexican and European clubs are acceptable occasions for these massive lineup shuffles due to them being simply that: friendlies. However, to do this in what is supposed to be the premier United States club soccer tournament against your fiercest rival only does more harm than good. Actions like these only undercut whatever momentum the US Open Cup tries to build toward becoming a more highly regarded tournament.

If two flagships of MLS 2.0, who have cultivated the fiercest club soccer rivalry in the United States, can’t even muster up enough respect for the US Open Cup to play even half their regular starters in a game against one another then something is fundamentally wrong with the tournament.

Teams like Seattle and Portland deserve to be shamed for actions like what occurred ahead of Tuesday’s game if the US Open Cup ever has a shot at being important, let alone meaningful. Then again, if the US Open Cup is more than happy for MLS sides to walk all over them like this, there really isn’t anything worth fighting for. 

Seattle and Portland should be ashamed for diminishing Tuesday’s product under the guise of resting players for more important games like FC Dallas and…wait, what’s Seattle’s excuse again? Rivalry games between Sounders 2 and Timbers 2 should stick to the USL regular season and nothing more.