Source: 2012 US Open Cup format proposal calls for 64 teams, including all 16 US-based MLS clubs

Posted by | November 9, 2011

The 2012 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup will be receiving an extreme makeover, according to a source familiar with the organization of the tournament. The changes are detailed in a proposal that is awaiting final approval by Major League Soccer’s Competition Committee, which is scheduled to meet in the weeks leading up to MLS Cup. The proposal calls for the US Open Cup to increase the number of participating teams from 40 to 64, which will include all 16 US-based MLS sides. The tournament will also begin earlier, kicking off the opening round on May 15, marking the first time the tournament has begun prior to Memorial Day in the Modern Professional Era (1995-present).

The source tells that the changes are the result of a compromise. The lower division teams wanted a greater chance to face an MLS team in the tournament, while MLS teams were looking to begin and end the competition earlier in the year to avoid scheduling congestion in the second half of the season. In addition to the playoff chase at the close of the regular season, some MLS teams also participate in the CONCACAF Champions League Group Phase. International competitions featuring MLS players have also been part of the juggling act for clubs, particularly in June and July.

The goal is to have the Open Cup completed by August, the starting point of the CCL Group Phase which runs August to October. The last Open Cup tournament to hold a championship game before the month of September was in 1995 when the Richmond Kickers won the title in penalty kicks over the El Paso Patriots, the year before MLS joined the competition.

The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) declined to comment until any proposals have been confirmed.

The 64 teams and rounds of play would be broken up as follows:

The First Round would begin with 32 amateur teams playing off to produce 16 winners. The 16 that advance from Round 1 will take on the 16 US-based lower division professional teams from the North American Soccer League (NASL), pending sanctioning, and USL Pro. The 16 winners from Round 2 would face the 16 MLS sides awaiting them in Round 3.

There is, however, no certainty that the NASL will be fully sanctioned as a Division 2 league, but the proposal was constructed with the possibility that they would be. Last year, the NASL was excluded from the Open Cup, according to USSF, due to the fact that the 2011 format was already finalized prior to the NASL being awarded a one-year provisional sanctioning.

How the 32 amateur teams will be divided up between the Premier Development League (PDL), National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) and US Club Soccer will be determined at a later date.

Another ripple effect from moving the start of the tournament to the middle of May is the expected elimination of the longstanding in-season qualifying process for the PDL berths. Throughout the Modern Professional Era, the PDL has featured regular season games which double as qualifiers for the US Open Cup, adding additional value to the early part of the league schedule. Since the vast majority of players on PDL and NPSL rosters are college players, the earliest they are allowed to start training with their club is May 1, but with two weeks until the first Open Cup game, it is highly unlikely that the leagues will try to squeeze in any kind of qualifying process.

In fact, a sign that the new format is expected to be adopted has already surfaced. USASA regional and state associations have been informed that they need to make arrangements to have regional qualifying completed by May 1. Based on previous tournament formats, that is usually the same deadline PDL and NPSL teams are given to determine their entries.

For the first time since 2006, every MLS team will enter the US Open Cup, putting an end to five years of play-in tournaments for the top division. The numbers would suggest that MLS qualifying will not be missed as average attendance for the competition, held on midweek dates, had been on a steady decline since 2008. After averaging 6,479 fans per game in 2007 (four games) and 6,764 in 2008 (five games), 2009 (six games) dropped to 4,724 and 2010 hit rock bottom with 2,487 over seven games. Last year, the average climbed to 3,803, but much of that is attributed to the Portland Timbers who drew an MLS qualifying record 11,412 to watch their 1-0 extra time loss to the San Jose Earthquakes in the semifinals.

MORE ANALYSIS: Extreme Makeover – US Open Cup edition: What it all means (Extra Time @


  • Barry Evans says:

    Why not just make it an open draw with 64 teams? Maybe even regionalise the first 2 rounds to save on the travel costs? – open draw, can have LA vs Seattle in Round 1 even. That makes it 6 rounds that can be done on 5 weekdays then the final on a weekend. Easy.

  • weaht says:

    this is a welcome change.

  • Pat says:

    Next step is to actually start promoting the tournament, especially with television. Until awareness is raised, no one outside of Seattle will care.

  • OleGunnar20 says:

    uh. aren’t there 17 US based D2/D3 teams next season (as far as we know right now)? so which one team gets left out? seems kind of crappy that just one gets excluded.

    • Josh Hakala says:

      1. Orlando City
      2. Wilmington
      3. Richmond
      4. Charleston
      5. Charlotte
      6. Rochester
      7. Harrisburg
      8. Los Angeles
      9. Pittsburgh
      10. FC New York
      11. Dayton


      12. Carolina
      13. FC Tampa Bay
      14. Ft. Lauderdale
      15. Minnesota
      16. Atlanta
      17. San Antonio (begins play in 2012)

      Maybe they will have a play-in for USL Pro? No specifics have been determined as to how they will choose which 16 teams get in. All I was told is that there will be 16 lower division pro teams in Round 2. Similarly, they haven’t determined how the 32 amateur teams will be split up between the leagues either. This is simply just to create the layout of the tournament next year.

  • Michael says:

    I LOVE getting all MLS clubs into the USOC proper (although they should devise the system NOW for when MLS no longer has such a convenient number of US clubs).

    But I HATE screwing lower-level clubs by forcing them to to play down up to a year in advance, and I HATE the idea of a final in August. The final is already scheduled to avoid the early CCL round, so leave it there. Don’t hurt US soccer with false accommodation to MLS. July is no less fake-congested, with the money-grab friendlies we play.

  • ERic says:

    A rumor was posted on BigSoccer that FC New York will be dropping down to NPSL.

    So that should take care of the D2/3 issue.

    …unless, of course, the USL adds some more USLPRO teams.

    Which it probably will, whether it’s a good idea or not.

  • Fred says:

    Better for the sport to include 64. Good comments concerning more TV exposure and promotion and a final on a Saturday or Sunday broadcast on a major TV network would help.

  • Daniel Feuerstein says:

    Well I always thought that since the San Antonio Scorpions are an expansion side, they should go into the first round along with the amateur sides. I understand they are in Second Division, but they are also an expansion club and should start in round 1. Next year in 2013 let’s see if they do start in round 2 proper.

    Josh what happened to the USASA? Did they merge into this US Club Soccer people?

    • Josh Hakala says:

      I don’t expect USASA’s number of teams to change. Frankly, there’s just not enough participation within the USASA to warrant more teams. The majority of states don’t even enter a single team. The question is if US Club Soccer will become more involved.

  • Daniel northington says:

    the tournament needs to be an aggregate tournament. The final should be one game played at a neutral site as well.

  • Daniel Feuerstein says:

    To Daniel Northington, that will never happen. The MLS sides would never accept that. I understand the Copa Del Ray uses Goal aggregate in Spain, but that won’t happen here with the way MLS does their scheduling.

    Josh, so your saying that the USASA is still around? The article that was writen didn’t have them in it. That’s why my question was did they merge with this US Club Soccer.

  • Josh Hakala says:

    (ABOVE) “In fact, a sign that the new format is expected to be adopted has already surfaced. USASA regional and state associations have been informed that they need to make arrangements to have regional qualifying completed by May 1.”

  • Daniel Feuerstein says:

    (ABOVE AS WELL) How the 32 amateur teams will be divided up between the Premier Development League (PDL), National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) and US Club Soccer will be determined at a later date.

    That’s why I was thrown off. that’s why I asked if USASA & US Club Soccer merged. But since it hasn’t thank you for the clarification.

  • Reeves' Army says:

    For those not paying attention, the minor pro draw problem was solved with the folding of FC New York.

Leave a Reply to Barry Evans Cancel Reply

Your email address will not be published.