Last year we ran a piece detailing the 2017 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, of course with every Open Cup Tournament like this there are changes year to year and we’re here to help.
This year Minnesota will see two teams (Minnesota United FC and NPSL Duluth FC) compete in the tournament along with Fargo, ND based (even though they actually play in Moorhead) Dakota Fusion FC. This is the first time since Minnesota teams started competing in the USOC in 1999 that more than one club from the North Star State will compete in the main portion (Minneapolis City, competing under parent club Stegmans’, was eliminated in qualifying) of the Open Cup.
Of course just like last year each team needs to qualify for the US Open Cup, there are three ways to qualify for the tournament. First all 20 US based MLS clubs qualify meaning that you won’t see Montreal Impact, Toronto FC, and Vancouver Whitecaps playing in the US Open Cup as they will be playing in the Canadian Equivalent, the Canadian Championship. As well all eligible teams from the 2nd Division USL qualify. Eligible teams are any US based teams (so no Ottawa Fury who also compete in the Canadian Championship) that are not “majority owned by a higher-level Outdoor Professional League Team”.
After all ineligible teams are removed, that leaves 44 professional teams (up from 43 last season) qualifying for the tournament.
The second way to qualify for the tournament is through the national league track. This track is exclusive to the two largest amateur leagues in the country, the NPSL and PDL. For the 2017 US Open Cup, the Premier Development League was given 20 (down from 21 in 2017) berths which were assigned by the league to nine of 10 division champions (as Thunder Bay won the Heartland Division) and 11 at-large berths. The NPSL on the other hand was given 19 (up from 18 in 2017) berths in which were assigned to the teams based on 2017 league standings.
The third way is via the Local Qualifying Track which is reserved for any team not in one of the previous mentioned leagues. After all teams have registered, the final allocations are given to the local qualifying teams who then play a three round single elimination qualifying tournament. Due to the disqualification of El Farolito (San Francisco, CA) for changing leagues (the same reason Minneapolis City SC was disqualified in 2017) this left 13 teams qualifying via this track.
Normally this would be all the clubs qualifying however US Soccer invited Jacksonville Armada, Miami FC 2, and New York Cosmos B to take part in the USOC. While normally Miami FC 2 and New York Cosmos B would be barred from entering due to being owned by a higher level outdoor professional team. The clubs were allowed in as a direct result of the NASL suspending play for at least the 2018 season and are considered direct continuations of the former's NASL sides.
Opening the US Open Cup this year will be a play-in round which was added for Jacksonville Armada, Miami FC 2, and New York Cosmos B to qualify for the tournament proper.
The First Round proper starts May 8-9th with the 49 qualified amateur teams and the 3 Play-In winners seeded geographically to open the tournament. You can check out the entire Play-In and First Round schedule here.
The Second Round, which will be played May 16th will see the saw 26 first round winners advance along with the 22 teams from USL enter the tournament. Just like the first round, the pairings are made geographically while also putting as many amateur teams against professional teams as possible.
The Third Round will see the 24 winners from the second round seeded based on geography and play against each other on/around May 23rd.
The Fourth Round sees not only the 12 winners from the Third Round but also the addition of the MLS clubs. All 32 teams will be seeded based on geography again for this round which will be played on/around June 6th.
The remaining rounds are based on a draw done prior to the Fifth Round in which “divided geographically (regardless of league affiliation) into four groups”. After this final draw the bracket will be fixed going forward through the Fifth Round (June 20th), Quarter-Finals (July 18th), Semi-Finals (August 8th), and Final (September 26th).
The US Open Cup is especially important for lower division teams with the prize money that is given out. The Champion receives $300,000 (up from $250,000 in 2017) and one of the three places in the CONCACAF Champions League given to US teams. The runner-up receives $100,000 (up from $60,000 in 2017) along with the furthest advancing team from each lower division receiving $25,000 (up from $15,000) which is extremely important for the amateur teams.