Photo: Kari Haffelfinger for TheCup.us
As part of the announcement of the draw for the 2015 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Round of 16, the United States Soccer Federation also revealed plans to change the organization of the qualifying process for amateur teams for the 2016 tournament.
As reported by TheCup.us back in March, the federation will take over the entire qualifying process for all of the amateur teams across the country. The Premier Development League (PDL) and the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) will continue to base their entries on the results of the previous season’s results, but the rest of the amateur leagues will undergo a massive overhaul.
According to the USSF’s Open Division handbook distributed to participating teams, the reason for the changes is to help promote the qualifying element of the US Open Cup by giving teams and fans alike a “clear, indentifiable path for reaching the Open Cup tournament proper.” They also aim to eliminate “a major burden from local, state, regional and national amateur administrators to organize competitions at multiple levels.” The federation will also approve rosters through the qualifying process which they hope will minimize disputes regarding player eligibility.
Teams interested in competing in the 2016 US Open Cup from the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA), US Club Soccer (USCS), United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA), or any other US Soccer-affiliated league that meets the federation’s minimum requirements will need to sign up for the qualifying tournament through the USSF. The deadline for registering is Aug. 3. The preliminary announcement of the number of teams that will take part in the 2016 Open Cup will be announced on Aug. 10. Teams that qualify from the open division tournament are expected to begin play in the tournament proper which is tentatively scheduled to begin on May 11, 2016.
While the competition bills itself as an ‘Open’ Cup, not any team with 11 players with the same color shirts can enter the second-oldest continuously-operating soccer tournament in the world. Sunday ‘beer league’ teams are welcome as long as those beer leagues meet the federation’s minimum standards.
“Teams that enter the Open Cup local qualifying track must belong to an existing affiliated league,” said USSF spokesperson Neil Buethe. “The league the entrant belongs to must have at least four teams with each playing a schedule of 10 games.”
There is no online resource to determine which leagues are affiliated with US Soccer. Buethe says that teams should check with their local league to verify which sanctioning body they are affiliated with.
As mentioned, the federation will handle all player registration for the qualifying tournament. A 22-man roster will need to be submitted by Aug. 24 for the fall qualifiers and the team is not allowed to add any players until they reach the fourth round of qualifying in the spring. Teams reaching the fourth round can replace up to five players before the spring roster deadline in late February or early March. This could create challenges for teams that recruit college players because the clubs would have to receive a solid commitment from a player two months before the school year ends, and they wouldn’t be able to use him in a game until the tournament proper begins. The 22-man roster that the team begins the fourth round of qualifying with will be frozen until June 30, if they advance that far into the tournament proper. Based on 2014 and 2015 dates, June 30 would fall into Round 5 (Round of 16) and an amateur team had never advanced beyond the Fourth Round in the Modern Era.
One major change to the roster rules is that players who compete in open division qualifying are cup tied throughout the entire US Open Cup. So if a player steps on the field for an amateur club in the qualifying tournament and then signs with a pro team the following spring, he is cup tied to that amateur team for the remainder of the competition.
Another issue that needs to be addressed when a team is registering is determining whether or not they are interested in hosting or not. If they are, they must submit a Venue Declaration Form (due Aug. 7) to be considered. If both teams meet the minimum venue standards, then a coin flip will determine the home team. The host will be responsible for the field itself, game balls, paying the officials and other gameday expenses. The visitors are in charge of covering their own travel costs.
Once your team is registered, and the $200 entry fee is paid, the federation will announce the schedule around Aug. 17.
The number of qualifying rounds will be based on the number of teams that enter. With that being said, the following is the tentative schedule for the tournament:
Sept. 12-13: Round 1 (Northeast / Mid-Atlantic region)
Sept. 19-20: Round 1 (All other states)
Oct. 17-18: Round 2 (Northeast / Mid-Atlantic region)
Oct. 24-25: Round 2 (All other states)
Nov. 14-15: Round 3 (Northeast / Mid-Atlantic region)
Nov. 21-22: Round 3 (All other states)
Early January: 2016 US Open Cup format announced
Mar. 12-13: Round 4
Apr. 16-17: Round 5
May 11: First Round of US Open Cup proper