Anyone familiar with the English Premier League knows that every year they have multiple national competitions, with the two most prominent being The FA Cup and the EFL Cup. In these tournaments, clubs from across the nation compete for bragging rights.
The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, generally referred to as the USOC or just Open Cup, is the USSF version of those. Having been played every year since 1914, the USOC is the longest running tournament in the United States. If you haven’t been paying attention, you may be surprised to learn that qualifying for this year’s Cup started back in September with 94 amateur clubs kicking off a four-round series of qualifying matches.
This weekend, the last of those qualifying rounds will take place on pitches around the country. Seven of those clubs, along with 2018 National Amateur Cup champions Bavarian SC, will advance to the tournament proper. After this weekend’s results, the first round pairings will be announced on April 10.
The first round will see the entrance of six USL League One clubs and 32 Open Division clubs. The Open Division will include clubs from the amateur qualifiers, USL League Two, and the National Premier Soccer League. First round matches will take place on May 7th and 8th.
What does this mean for New Mexico United?
Since the United are a part of the USL Championship, they will enter the USOC tournament in the second round alongside the other Championship clubs. United will find out who their opponent will be on April 17. Given the format of the tournament, their most likely opponent will be an amateur club. The third round will feature only the winners of round two. MLS clubs will enter the tournament in the fourth round.
What’s different for the Open Cup?
There are a number of differences in format for the USOC. If you watched any of the knockout stage of the World Cup, it’s going to seem very familiar. Matches that are tied after 90 minutes of regulation proceed to 30 minutes of extra time. If the match is still tied after 120 minutes, the winner will be determined by penalty kicks.
Certain clubs won’t be able to face each other, such as teams that are an Open Division club and their parent, or if they receive support from another club. This means clubs like New York Red Bulls and their USL League Two affiliate NYRB U23 won’t play each other.
There are some professional clubs that cannot compete because they are majority-owned or controlled by a higher division club. This year several USL Championship clubs are excluded: ATL UTD 2, Bethlehem Steel FC, LA Galaxy II, Loudon United FC, NRYB II, Portland Timbers 2, Real Monarchs SLC, Rio Grande Valley FC, Swope Park Rangers, and the Tacoma Defiance.
Why does the Open Cup matter?
The Open Cup has a great deal of importance that comes with it. Not only do amateur and lower division clubs get significant exposure, but the winner of the tournament also receives an invitation to be a part of the CONCACAF Champions League and face off against international opponents. With the exception of the 1999 tournament, which was won by the Rochester Rhinos, every Open Cup has been won by an MLS club; the most recent being the Houston Dynamo.
How can I follow the Open Cup?
U.S. Soccer and ESPN just announced a broadcast partnership for the USOC lasting through the 2022 tournament. Under the partnership, every match beginning with the first round will be shown on ESPN+. Match information can also be found on thecup.us or ussoccer.com