The New US Open Cup

91 teams ready to take part in 102nd tournament
by Ray Marcham   |   Thursday, February 05, 2015

US Open Cup Corner - 2012 Lamar Hunt USOC

It’s bigger than ever, and the format has changed a bit, but we’ll know by fall if the changes and being bigger is better for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.

US Soccer announced the new format for the USOC on Wednesday, and it now has 91 clubs and nine official rounds, including a Play-In Round in late April to start things off. BY time the end of September comes, we’ll know if the Seattle Sounders have won their fifth Cup in seven years or if a new side will claim the trophy and the $250,000 winner’s share.

The breakdown by league shows the increasing growth at all levels of the game, especially at the amateur level. There are 44 amateur teams in this year’s USOC, including 19 from the Premier Development League (PDL), 12 from the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), 11 from the US Adult Soccer Association (USASA) and one each from US Club Soccer and the US Specialty Sports Association (USSSA). All of these clubs enter in the first round, except for two USASA sides and the US Club Soccer and the USSSA representative, who will start the USOC in the Play-In Round.

As the tournament moves along, the 47 professional sides will enter. The 21 US-based teams from USL Pro will join the USOC in the second round, and then the 9 American clubs in the North American Soccer League will jump in for Round 3. The 17 US-based Major League Soccer teams will then come into the tournament in the fourth round.

One aspect that US Soccer is trying to improve is creating better geographical matchups, so they will be trying to set up matchups in the first four rounds (and the Play-In Round) based on getting clubs from the same region (but not the same league or organization) to play each other. This means a USASA club can’t play another USASA club in the first round, USL Pro sides can’t play each other in the second round and NASL clubs will be kept apart in the third round. However, because of the odd number of teams going in during the fourth round, there will be one matchup in that round where two MLS sides play each other. This is meant to prevent situations in that happened in past years, where clubs on the West Coast and those in the Southeast ended up playing each other in the fourth round.

There is one tricky part of this hopeful scheduling that could mess with the geographical set-up, and that’s when a lower-level club reaches the same stage as its parent club. This primarily is because of the MLS-USL Pro connections, but this also occurs with NASL clubs and their affiliated clubs in the NPSL. Of course, if one of the PDL clubs that are affiliated with a professional side moves on, the same scheduling situation arises and changes will be made.

Once the fifth round (the Round of 16) arrives, then the round-by-round draws will end and a set bracket will be created for the rest of the USOC. This draw will also take the geographic format one step farther, as four regions will be created for clubs to work through to reach the semifinals. But, again, if affiliated clubs are in the same region, then that all gets changed and the draw gets reworked.

The dates of play have been set, and it is steady through May and June. After the Play-In Round in April, the first three rounds are on the three last Wednesdays in May, and the fourth round is scheduled for June 16-17. The Round of 16 and the start of the (hopefully) set bracket will be on June 30-July 1. The quarterfinals are set for July 21-22, the semis for August 11-12 and the final is set for September 29.

What is there for the US Open Cup winner? There’s the $250,000 prize for the club and a spot in the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League. The other cup finalist gets $60,000, while the team that makes it the farthest in the USOC from each lower division gets $15,000.

Of course, whether Seattle can make it five cups in seven years will be the big storyline. The Sounders, along with the Chicago Fire, are the only MLS sides to have won four cups, and they both have the chance to equal the record of five US Open Cups. That record is held by two historic clubs; the legendary Bethlehem Steel FC sides of the 1910s and 1920s, and by Maccabi Los Angeles, which won five cups between 1973 and 1981.

Another change this year supporters will be happy about is that the final is no longer on GOL-TV. The final will return to Fox Sports, with the likely channel showing the match being Fox Sports 1. There is also a slight possibility that matches earlier in the tournament could be shown, whether on Fox Sports 1 or Fox Sports 2, but a decision on that hasn’t been made.

The 102nd edition of the US Open Cup will be much like any other national cup tournament around the world, whether it’s the FA Cup in England, the Coppa Italia in Italy, the DFB-Pokol in Germany or the Copa do Brasil. There will be a lower division team that will make a valiant run deep into the tourney, and there will be upsets along the way. But the end will likely be the same, as MLS clubs have won the last 15 titles (Rochester Rhinos were the last non-MLS club to win the USOC, in 1999) and will be expected to do the same again.

But, you never know what will happen. And that is what makes the US Open Cup a special event.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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