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Should MLS teams have to forfeit potential U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal matches?

On Feb. 4, the U.S. Soccer Federation announced the calendar for the 102nd annual U.S. Open Cup, a tournament with rich tradition but growing pains since MLS’s participation began in 1996.

This summer, MLS clubs joined the fray in the fourth round. Almost all of them advanced. And with victories this week, teams will move to the quarterfinals July 21 or 22.

In May, the New York Red Bulls announced they would host Premier League champion Chelsea in the glittery, but inconsequential, International Champions Cup. The date: July 22.

Meantime, the Los Angeles Galaxy agreed to an ICC match (i.e. jersey-selling ploy) against FC Barcelona at the Rose Bowl. The date: July 21.

And the San Jose Earthquakes said it would play an ICC game (re: Euro training camp) against Manchester United in Berkeley. The date: July 21.

This week, the Red Bulls will host the second-division New York Cosmos and the Galaxy will visit San Jose. Hence, up to two teams threaten to put the U.S. Soccer Federation, which administers the tournament, in a tight spot.

Would the USSF play hardball and force them to choose between the Open Cup and a profitable pseudo-tournament? A sellout crowd is expected to watch the UEFA Champions League winners in preseason, while the Earthquakes will draw a big audience for the visiting Red Devils. (It should be noted the USSF receives a revenue cut from international matches played in the United States.)

Or will the federation adjust the calendar to accommodate the silly matches? Remember: The Open Cup dates were set long before the ICC and, regardless of what you think of the Open Cup, the games count.

The Red Bulls might have more leverage because they are designated to host D.C. United or the Philadelphia Union at Red Bull Arena (should they oust the Cosmos). But a Galaxy victory would send the MLS Cup champions to Portland or Real Salt Lake.

In all scenarios, potential Open Cup opponents have their own timetables; they have been planning to play July 21-22. They didn’t schedule ICC games or international friendlies.

Some may not have a problem adjusting the schedule. Others, depending on the new date, might have a legitimate beef.

At the moment, the USSF says: “We are reviewing the situation. We will announce the exact schedule for the quarterfinal round later in the week.”

Now, should the USSF (or MLS) provide flexibility on scheduling matters? Absolutely — when there is a conflict involving real competition.

For instance, MLS was willing to postpone Montreal Impact early-season matches in order to allow the club to better prepare for the late stages of the CONCACAF Champions League, an official tournament. The Impact’s MLS opponents were inconvenienced but they understood it was for a greater purpose.

In scheduling matches on dates they knew could conflict with the Open Cup, the Galaxy, Earthquakes and Red Bulls chose compensation over competition. That’s fine. But the clubs should also prepare themselves for the consequences: use split squads for matches on the same day; use mixed lineups for matches on consecutive days; cancel the friendlies; or forfeit the Open Cup.

In reality, MLS teams do not have enough depth for two squads, and frankly, that would be farcical; also, the Red Bulls would have stadium issues. Playing on back-to-back days violates MLS’s collective bargaining agreement. There’s too much money at stake — and business reputations and contracts to uphold — to cancel the friendlies. And forfeiture of official competition is poor form.

Inevitably, the USSF (backed by MLS muscle) will have to move the quarterfinal date involving the Galaxy or Earthquakes earlier or later on the calendar.

And quietly hope the Cosmos help alleviate one of the looming conflicts.