A Deeper Look Into The 2016 US Open Cup

No MLS-owned USL sides, new Open Division qualifying among changes
by Ray Marcham   |   Friday, November 06, 2015

US Soccer Federation (USSF)

The 2016 US Open Cup is underway, and it’s already looking much different than the 2015 edition did.

You did know that the USOC was underway, right? It is, and US Soccer has already made a major change to the format.

That change affects MLS-owned clubs in the USL (Division 3), and they won’t be a part of the USOC next year. US Soccer made this change in September, but many fans didn’t know about it until early November.

Who does that affect? The in-house MLS/USL sides, such as Portland Timbers 2, New York Red Bulls II and LA Galaxy II, now can’t be in the Cup. Clubs that are majority-owned by MLS sides, such as the new Swope Park Rangers (Sporting Kansas City) and Bethlehem Steel FC (Philadelphia Union), also can’t be a part of the Cup. This might be a good thing for the parent clubs, as MLS sides no longer have to worry about a player being cup-tied with their USL side before they can play with the MLS team.

It doesn’t affect the clubs that are affiliated with, but not owned by, MLS teams. So independent teams with MLS affiliations, such as the USL champion Rochester Rhinos (New England), will have no problems and are still a major part of the Cup.

The ruling also doesn’t affect the in-house developmental sides that play in the PDL or NPSL. Since those are amateur/semi-pro teams, and the rule change only affects fully professional teams, clubs like Portland Timbers U-23s (PDL) and Atlanta Silverbacks Reserves (NPSL) can still participate in the USOC.

What that means for 2016 is that there will be fewer USL clubs coming in when Round 2 arrives. In 2015, 21 USL teams (all of the US-based sides) entered the USOC at that stage, while in 2016 there will be 17, with new teams in Cincinnati and Rio Grande Valley helping offset the loss of the MLS-owned sides and Austin Aztex shutting down for the year. That will affect how Round 1 is set up after the qualifying rounds are complete in the spring.

But that won’t affect the NASL or MLS teams in the USOC. There will be one more NASL team in the Cup, as Miami FC joins the league in 2016. With no new teams in MLS until 2017, that means Round 3 (when the NASL teams join) and Round 4 (the MLS clubs come in) will be fairly stable as far as numbers.

Amateur teams have started working their way through the qualifying rounds. Some familiar names, such as Cal FC, Harpo’s FC and San Francisco City, have already reached the next round of qualifying, and all second round qualifying matches will be played throughout November. Those who win will move on to the third qualifying round in the spring, with a chance to make the USOC’s main draw.

There have been problems, of course, as US Soccer has taken control of Open Division qualifying. First, there was a delay between the August deadline for teams to apply to be a part of the USOC and the final scheduling announcement in late September. But, those finally were figured out.

Then came some travel issues. While US Soccer tried to keep travel to a minimum, a couple of teams had to withdraw because of qualifying matchups being too far to travel. Those included Kansas City Athletics having to travel to Portland and Tobacco Road FC (NC) scheduled to go to New Orleans. Those travel issues are starting to come up again in Round 2, as International Portland Select, the team that benefitted from KC Athletics dropping out, may not be able to make it to Texas to play NTX Rayados because of travel costs. CD Motagua of New Orleans is again scheduled to host a team from North Carolina, with Queen City United scheduled to make the long trip from Charlotte.

The second qualifying round is spread out over two weekends. Teams in the east will play on Nov. 14-15, while those in the south and west play on Nov. 21-22. The third qualifying round is currently scheduled for early April, but with most things connected with the US Open Cup, that is subject to change.

And change is exactly what’s happening with the USOC. With the MLS-owned USL clubs no longer a part of the tournament and Open Division qualifying now underway, the 2016 edition of the Cup already has a much different look than 2015. The final look won’t be known until next year, but it will have a slightly new look than this year’s tourney.


Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
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.