The United States Soccer Federation’s US Open Cup committee has finalized the dates and the team allocations for the 2011 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. The 98th edition of the tournament will begin on June 14 with 40 teams entering and will wrap up with the championship game on October 4.
The only professional entries in this year’s tournament will be eight Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs and all 11 USL Pro teams (Third Division). With 16 U.S.-based MLS teams eligible, it’s clear that MLS qualifying will return, in some form, for the fifth year in a row.
Aside from the US Soccer Federation’s exclusion of the five U.S.-based NASL (Second Division) teams, which was announced on Monday, the most notable changes to the 2011 edition of the Open Cup is on the amateur side of the competition. For the first time since the league began play in 2003, the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) will have four slots set aside for the competition. In the past, the Fourth-Division amateur league has had to qualify for the Open Cup through the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA), which retains the eight spots that it has held since 2004. The Premier Development League (PDL) will get an extra team into the tournament this year, giving the league nine entries, the most they have ever had.
CONCACAF’s official twitter account recently confirmed what most people assumed, which is that the 2011 US Open Cup champion will still qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League.
The two-time defending champion Seattle Sounders FC will earn an automatic bid to the Open Cup, and have the chance to be the first team in over 40 years to win three consecutive Open Cups. The last team to achieve that feat was the New York Greek-Americans (1967-69). Only three teams in the history if the tournament have won three straight championships.
The Sounders will be joined by five other automatic qualifiers, based on the MLS league standings from 2010. The Columbus Crew, FC Dallas, New York Red Bulls, Real Salt Lake and the Supporters’ Shield winning Los Angeles Galaxy will all enter the tournament in the third round. The 10 remaining U.S.-based MLS clubs (Chicago Fire, Chivas USA, Colorado Rapids, DC United, Houston Dynamo, New England Revolution, Philadelphia Union, Portland Timbers, San Jose Earthquakes and Sporting Kansas City) will battle for the remaining two slots.
Each league chooses how their teams will qualify, and will announce their criteria at a later date. Since 2007, MLS has held a play-in tournament, with the last two years having the games separate from the regular season schedule. 2007 and 2008 saw regular season games double as Open Cup qualifiers.
While it is unknown which format MLS will take for play-in games this year, the play-in games from the last two years have struggled to spark fan interest. In 2009, the qualifying games, which were separate from the regular season schedule, drew less than 5,000 fans per game, and last year, the average fell to less than 2,500.
The PDL will keep a similar format with each U.S.-based team having four regular season games selected (usually two home, two away) to double as Open Cup qualifiers. The top team from each of the nine divisions will earn a berth into the First Round.
The USASA will keep the same qualifying format they have had for the last seven years where each of the four regions submits both finalists in their US Open Cup tournament.
MLS (8 teams – First Division): Columbus Crew, FC Dallas, Los Angeles Galaxy, New York Red Bulls, Real Salt Lake, Seattle Sounders FC + 2 qualifying teams
USL Pro (11 teams – Third Division): Charleston Battery, Charlotte Eagles, Dayton Dutch Lions, FC New York, Harrisburg City Islanders, Los Angeles Blues, Orlando City, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Richmond Kickers, Rochester Rhinos, Wilmington Hammerheads
PDL (9 teams – Amateur): Teams to be determined
USASA (8 teams – Amateur): Two finalists from each of the four regional tournaments
NPSL (4 teams – Amateur): Teams to be determined
The prize money also remains the same as last year with the winner of the tournament earning $100,000, the runner-up getting $50,000 and the Third Division (USL Pro) and Amateur team that advances the furthest gets $10,000.
Much like recent Open Cup tournaments, games are scheduled to take place on Tuesdays and the first three rounds will be played in consecutive weeks with the remaining games spaced out over the rest of the season until the October 4 final.
The dates for each round are as follows and are subject to change:
May 30: Qualification Deadline
Tuesday, June 14: First Round
Tuesday, June 21: Second Round
Tuesday, June 28: Third Round
Tuesday, July 12: Fourth Round
Tuesday, August 30: Semifinals
Tuesday, October 4: Final