UPDATE (2/7/2017): The Midland/Odessa Sockers have moved to NPSL, making it unlikely that they would occupy one of PDL’s Open Cup slots. They would vacate the 15th position to the team below them (FC Golden State Force) and everyone below them would move up one slot.
With the Premier Development League (PDL) playoffs kicking off today, let’s take a look at the probable and possible qualifiers to next year’s Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
According to the 2017 US Open Cup Handbook, the qualifying process for the PDL, which are based on the previous season’s results, will be very similar to last year’s.
The number of PDL teams that will be invited to the tournament is still up in the air, but a good estimate would put the number in the same neighborhood as 2016. For the last three tournaments, US Soccer has invited 19 PDL teams.
Estimates aside, the 10 PDL division winners are guaranteed a spot if they want it (Note: Some teams have declined invitations in the past).
Here is a quick rundown, first of the PDL’s Division Winners who will in all likelihood automatically qualify:
Michigan Bucks, Great Lakes Division winner
The US-based competition was not stiff for this perennial US Open Cup entrant. They scored 45 goals and only allowed 7 in league play on their way to winning the Great Lakes Division by 2 points over K-W United. Their closest American rival were the Derby City Rovers, who finished 13 points out of first.
The Bucks are the most successful amateur teams in the Modern Era of the tournament, having upset more professional teams, by far, than any other teams at their level. Among the nine pro teams that they have eliminated, two of them were Major League Soccer teams: the New England Revolution in Foxborough in 2000 and the Chicago Fire at home in 2012. No amateur team has upset more than one MLS team.
FC Tucson, Southwest Division winner
In the end, it was a comfortable six-point Southwest Division win for FC Tucson, who’s slated to make their third consecutive US Open Cup appearance. Their best showing was in 2013, when they advanced past the NASL’s San Antonio Scorpions in penalties before falling to the Houston Dynamo (MLS). Before too long, they could end up making the Open Cup more consistently if the USL rumors are true.
Charlotte Eagles, South Atlantic Division winner
It will be the Eagles’ second consecutive Open Cup appearance as a PDL team, as they edged out Greensboro’s Carolina Dynamo by three points for the division win. They will hope to follow up on their first-round win this year over the Myrtle Beach Mutiny, which brought them to a date with intra-city USL rival Charlotte Independence.
The Eagles are one of the oldest continuously operating soccer teams in the Southeast, having been around 1991. They have been a professional team through the 2014 season, and did not have a strong Open Cup resume until 2012 when they made a run to the Quarterfinals after beating FC Dallas (MLS) and the San Antonio Scorpions (NASL) on the road.
Des Moines Menace, Heartland Division winner
Des Moines will make their fifth consecutive US Open Cup appearance (7th straight if you include the club’s USASA team that qualified in 2011 and 2014) after their third consecutive Heartland Division title. The well-supported Iowan team has won a game in each of their last four Open Cup appearances, notably beating USL’s Tulsa Roughnecks this year and Minnesota United (NASL) in 2013.
Their best Open Cup run came in 2005, as they reached the fourth round after beating the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (USL-2), Charleston Battery (USL-1), and Atlanta Silverbacks (USL-1) in that order before succumbing to the then-named Kansas City Wizards (MLS).
Reading United AC, Mid Atlantic Division winner
Though Reading, the PDL affiliate of the Philadelphia Union (MLS), will be participating in their ninth consecutive Open Cup, which is a Modern Era record for amateur teams. They will punch their ticket on the strength of their first division championship in six years. They lost to the NPSL’s Chattanooga FC in the second round this year, but have cleared their first Open Cup game every year since 2012, with their biggest victory coming in 2013 against USL’s Harrisburg City Islanders. If Reading wins their tournament opener in 2017, they will break the Modern Era record for consecutive opening round wins by an amateur team.
Oklahoma City Energy U-23, Mid South Division winner
Oklahoma City Energy’s (USL) youth team will qualify for the Open Cup in their first-ever season after beating out teams like the Mississippi Brilla and the Albuquerque Sol to claim this year’s Mid South championship.
Fresno Fuego, Central Pacific Division winner
After a two-year absence, the most-supported team in the PDL will return to the Open Cup after dominating the Central Pacific Division by seven points. Their Open Cup highlights include a Second Round victory over the USL’s Orange County Blues and a run to the Fourth Round in their inaugural season in 2003.
The Villages SC, Southeast Division winner
The club formerly known as the Ocala Stampede is expected to make its third straight appearance in 2017. They edged out the Southeast Division by a single point over the South Florida Surf. It rounds out an eventful rebranding season for The Villages, who beat the Charleston Battery (USL) in the Second Round this year, only for the result to be overturned due to the use of an ineligible player.
GPS Portland Phoenix, Northeast Division Winner
The Maine-based club will enter their second Open Cup in a row (5 of last 6 years) looking for their second-ever win in the competition. The first victory came against Mass Premier Soccer (USASA) in the opening round of the 2013 Open Cup. It was another dramatic finish to win the division. Last year, they beat out the Seacoast United Phantoms on the strength of head-to-head results, but this year, they defeated the Western Mass Pioneers on the final day of the season to clinch the Northeast Division title.
The tenth PDL division, the Northwest Division, was actually won by a Canadian team, Calgary Foothills FC. While the US Open Cup handbook states that the Division Winners are ranked 1-10, it is unclear if the Seattle Sounders Under-23 side, who finished in second with 24 points, would claim that division title role. If they do, they make the Open Cup safely. If not, they have to sweat it out with the rest of the 24-point teams. For the purposes of this article, the Sounders U-23 team will assume that tenth division winner slot.
Per the handbook, each team that does not win its division is ranked by points, wins, goal differential, and goals scored in that order. Since the USSF has invited 19 PDL teams in the past, it is likely the following teams, which are ranked by USSF’s guidelines, will also be invited:
- Carolina Dynamo (31 points)
Open Cup appearances: 11
Last Open Cup appearance: 2014
Best Finish: Quarterfinals (1996 as A-League team)
Notable wins (pro team 1995-2003):
1996 Round 2: 1-0 vs New York Centaurs (A-League)
1999 Round 2: 2-0 at Orange County Zodiac (A-League)
2006 Round 2: 1-0 vs Richmond Kickers (USL-2)
2006 Round 3: 3-2 (AET) vs Seattle Sounders (USL-1)
- San Diego Zest FC (29 points)
Open Cup Appearances: 0
- South Florida Surf (28 points)
Open Cup Appearances: 0
- Ocean City Nor’Easters (27 points, 9 wins)
Open Cup Appearances: 7
Last Open Cup Appearance: 2014
Best Finish: Third Round (2005, 2009, 2013)
2005 Round 2: 4-0 vs Long Island Rough Riders (USL-2)
2007 Round 1: 1-0 at Crystal Palace Baltimore (USL-2)
2009 Round 1: 3-0 vs Crystal Palace Baltimore (USL-2)
2009 Round 2: 1-0 (AET) vs Real Maryland Monarchs (USL-2)
2013 Round 2: 1-0 vs Pittsburgh Riverhounds (USL-Pro)
- FC Golden State Force (26 points, 8 wins, +15 GD)
Open Cup Appearances: 0
- Chicago Fire U-23s (26 points, 8 wins, +10 GD)
Open Cup Appearances: 4
Last Appearance: 2011
Best Finish: Third Round (2004)
2004 Round 2: 5-1 at New Hampshire Phantoms (PDL, now Seacoast United Phantoms)
- Western Mass Pioneers (25 points)
Open Cup Appearances: 9
Last Appearance: 2015
Best Finish: Third Round (2005)
2005 Round 2: 5-0 vs Reggae Boyz (USASA)
- Ventura County Fusion (24 points, 7 wins, +6 GD)
Open Cup Appearances: 7 (Would be 8th consecutive)
Last Appearance: 2016
Best Finish: Third Round (2012, 2015)
2012 Round 2: 3-1 (AET) at LA Blues (USL-Pro)
2015 Round 2: 2-1 at LA Galaxy II (USL)
If, for whatever reason, USSF takes fewer than 18 teams, the Fusion may be out of luck. However it’s more likely that USSF will either add PDL teams or some will drop out of the competition, opening the door for more entrants. Instability is not high at the top of the PDL, though, as only two teams that would have qualified (DC United U-23 and Ocala Stampede) dropped out, opening the door for last year’s Sounders and Timbers U-23 teams.
If any of that does happen, though, these PDL teams are next in line to qualify:
19. SC United Bantams (24 points, 7 wins, +2 GD)
20. Burlingame Dragons FC (23 points, +9 GD)
21. Derby City Rovers (23 points, 7 wins, +6 GD)
22. Baltimore Bohemians (23 points, 7 wins, +5 GD)
23. King’s Warriors (23 points, 7 wins, +2 GD)
24. FC Miami City Champions (22 points, 6 wins, +9 GD)
25. New York Red Bulls U-23 (22 points, 6 wins, +3 GD)
26. South Georgia Tormenta FC (21 points, 6 wins, +4 GD, 22 goals scored)
27. Floridians FC (21 points, 6 wins, +4 GD, 20 goals scored)
28. Long Island Rough Riders (21 points, 6 wins, +2 GD)
29. San Francisco City FC (20 points, 6 wins, +3 GD)
30. FC Boston (20 points, 6 wins, -2 GD)
31. Washington Crossfire (20 points, 5 wins, +2 GD)
Hopefully, that goes some way towards clearing a pretty muddy Open Cup qualifying process.