The Seattle Sounders 2 and the Portland Timbers 2, shown here in a 2015 US Open Cup Round 3 match will not be competing in the 2016 tournament. Photo: Charis Wilson | Seattle Sounders FC
A little more than two months after it was initially posted on their website and reported by TheCup.us, the United States Soccer Federation confirmed on Thursday via press release that all Major League Soccer-owned teams that compete in the United Soccer Leagues (USL) will not be eligible for the 2016 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup and beyond.
This would keep the following teams from competing in next year’s tournament: Seattle Sounders 2, Portland Timbers 2, LA Galaxy 2, New York Red Bulls 2, Real Monarchs (RSL) and 2016 expansion teams Orlando City B, Bethlehem Steel and Swope Park Rangers (Sporting KC).
This policy change was originally discovered on the federation’s Bylaws and Policies page in November where the 2015 Policy Amendments document states that on Sept. 8, 2015, the Board of Directors passed an amendment that will ban all Major League Soccer-owned USL teams from next year’s tournament.
The amendment reads:
“Any Outdoor Professional League Team that is majority owned by a higher-level Outdoor Professional League Team shall be ineligible to participate in the Open Cup. The Open Cup Committee shall review and determine team eligibility annually pursuant to this provision and report its decisions to the National Board of Directors.”
Questions had arisen about the status of 2016 USL expansion side Rio Grande Valley FC (RGVFC), who will be affiliated with MLS’ Houston Dynamo. The announcement by the USSF confirms that RGVFC will be allowed to compete in the tournament because while the two clubs will be sharing staff and coaches, they do not share an ownership group. RGVFC are owned by Lone Star FC. According to the Dynamo website, “Lone Star, as they do with the Houston Rockets, will manage and operate the club, including a new stadium, while Houston’s technical staff will select the players and coaching staff.”
Concerns arose last year that reserve teams under MLS control were fielding weakened rosters due, in large part, to the fact that the senior teams didn’t want to cup tie players with a USL team, thus making them unavailable for their own tournament run. One could speculate that was one of the motivating factors that led to this change.
A prime example of this comes from this past tournament’s second round match between the New York Red Bulls 2 and the PDL’s Jersey Express. All of the players on loan from the Red Bulls senior club did not dress for the match and seven players from the team’s Under-18 and Under-16 development academy squads were on the gameday roster. Two of those academy players found their way into the starting lineup. The Express won the match 1-0.
Now, with this news, the number of professional teams has been reduced by eight teams, which will change the number of teams that will enter the 2016 competition. The deadline for professional teams to register for the tournament was Dec. 31, 2015 and in the coming weeks, the federation will announce the finalized number of teams for the 103rd edition of the US Open Cup.