USSF announces monumental format changes to 2012 US Open Cup

Posted by | January 11, 2012

Lamar Hunt US Open Cup logoUPDATE (4/26/12): has learned the fee structure for hosting games. All hosts will pay the USSF 15% of any gross receipts over $100,000. In addition, in Round 3, the hosts must pay the federation a $12,000 fee in advance, which increases in to $18,000 in Round 4, and $25,000 in the Quarterfinals.

The United States Soccer Federation has announced sweeping changes to the 99th edition of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, many of which confirm reports by The competition will feature a Modern Professional Era (1995-present) record 64 teams, including every US-based professional club in the American soccer pyramid from Major League Soccer (16 teams), the North American Soccer League (6 teams), and USL PRO (10 teams). The remaining 32 spots will be filled by amateur clubs from the Premier Development League (16 teams), United States Adult Soccer Association (9 teams), National Premier Soccer League (6.5 teams), and US Club Soccer (0.5 team). An NPSL club will square off with a representative from US Club Soccer for a spot in the 2012 competition.

As reported by last week, another significant change is the elimination of the sealed bidding process for determining the host team for each round through the quarterfinals. This year, each team can apply to host each round and if both teams’ venues meet USSF’s standards, and pay the federation 15% of the gross gate receipts, then they will conduct a blind draw to determine the host. In the past, in addition to meeting USSF venue standards, teams would have to submit a financial bid, and the team that bid the most was awarded the home game. That process, a sometimes controversial method profiled in depth recently by, will remain in effect for just the Semifinals and the Final this year.

“USL is thrilled with the modifications made to the tournament format and structure for 2012,” said USL President Tim Holt. “Certainly, the greater level of participation by professional and amateur teams alike will attract the most attention and deservedly so; yet, just as importantly as the tournament expansion are the reforms to the determination of which teams host in each round.  This will favorably impact competitive equity and expose this special tournament to a greater variety of markets.”

Another change for 2012 will be the dates for the competition, which will start earlier and will be much more condensed than in previous years as to minimize fixture congestion, and conflicts with the CONCACAF Champions League. The match dates for the Open Cup remain scheduled for Tuesday nights to avoid conflicts with weekend-heavy league schedules. The qualifying deadline is April 29, which only really applies to the USASA, which is the only organization who still has not solidified it’s entries into this year’s tournament.

As was reported by, the first four rounds of the 2012 Open Cup will be fast and furious with each stage taking place on consecutive weeks. The tournament will begin on May 15, the earliest the Open Cup has begun in the Modern Pro Era, with the 32 amateur clubs (also a Modern Pro Era record) matching up in geographic fashion. The teams will be separated, like in recent years, into groups of four, with no teams from the same qualifying pool sharing a group. The winners of those games will move on to Round 2 the following week, May 22, where the 16 NASL and USL PRO clubs will enter. The week after that, on May 29, Major League Soccer will take on the Second Round winners as the Seattle Sounders will begin their quest to win an unprecedented fourth straight Open Cup title. With the number of teams, a fourth round will added and will take place June 5. The Cup hasn’t had a fourth round since a four-year run from 2003-06.

Three weeks later, the tournament will hold the Quarterfinals on June 26, followed by the Semifinals on July 10, and the Open Cup Final on either August 7 or 8. Holding the championship game in early August will mark the earliest it has been held since 1994 when Greek American AC (San Francisco) defeated Bavarian SC (Milwaukee) 3-0 on July 30.

It was not part of US Soccer’s original announcement, but was revealed in the 2012 US Open Cup handbook acquired by, the Third Round, Fourth Round and Quarterfinals will require a hosting fee, in addition to paying 15% of any gross gate receipts over $100,000. If both teams in a particular matchup are interested in hosting, they must meet USSF’s venue standards, and submit a check for the hosting fee for that particular round. Round 3, when Major League Soccer joins the competition, will require a fee of $12,000, which increases to $18,000 in Round 4, and then to $25,000 for the Quarterfinals. If both teams do that, then a blind draw will determine who hosts with the winner having their check deposited and the loser having their check sent back.

“Playing the tournament within a tighter period will keep the Open Cup continuously in the consciousness of American soccer fans through the summer as well as allow PDL and other amateur teams to remain intact if they were to pull off what would be a remarkable run to the Final,” said Holt, who also serves as the co-chair of the Open Cup committee. “We applaud US Soccer Federation leadership for endorsing and enabling these changes which will help further raise the credibility, visibility, and relevance of the competition.  Our USL PRO and PDL teams once again look forward to matching up against the other best soccer teams in the United States this summer.”h

With the earlier schedule, this makes it impossible for amateur clubs that depend on college players like the PDL, NPSL and US Club Soccer to hold qualifying, so as previously reported by, the PDL teams that will take part will be the 2011 division winners, and the runners-up. If any of the teams aren’t US-based, then the next eligible club will be taken. The list of teams who will compete for the PDL are as follows:

Central Conference
Michigan Bucks
– 1st place in Great Lakes Division – record 9th appearance (9-7-1 all-time), last appearance: 2008
Chicago Fire PDL – 2nd place in Great Lakes Division – 5th appearance (6-4-0), 3rd straight appearance
Des Moines Menace – 2nd place in Heartland Division* – 6th appearance (6-5-1, 1-0 in PKs) – Last appearance: 2010
Real Colorado Foxes – 3rd place in Heartland Division * – 2nd appearance (1-1-0), 2nd straight appearance
*Canadian club Thunder Bay finished 1st

Eastern Conference
Long Island Rough Riders – 1st place in Mid Atlantic Division – 5th appearance, 3rd as a PDL team (3-5-0 all-time, 1-2-0 as a PDL team) …  Last appearance: 2010
Reading United AC – 2nd place in Mid Atlantic Division … 6th appearance, 4th as a PDL team (0-5-0 all-time, 0-3-0 as a PDL team) … 4th straight appearance (tied for the amateur record)
MPS Portland Phoenix – 1st place in Northeast Division … 1st appearance
Carolina Dynamo – 1st place in South Atlantic Division … 8th appearance, 3rd as a PDL team (10-8-0 all-time, 5-3-0 as a PDL team) … 2nd straight appearance

Southern Conference
Laredo Heat – 1st place in Mid South Division … 2nd appearance (0-0-1, 0-1 in PKs … lost to Dallas Roma FC in 2006, who went on to make their magical run) … last appearance: 2006
El Paso Patriots – 2nd place in Mid South Division … 10th appearance, 5th as a PDL team (8-7-3, 1-2 in PKs all-time, 2-3-2, 1-1 in PKs as a PDL team) … 2nd straight appearance
Mississippi Brilla – 1st place in Southeast Division … 2nd appearance (0-1-0) … last appearance: 2009
Orlando City U23s (previously Central Florida Kraze) – 2nd place Southeast Division … 5th appearance (0-4-0) … 3rd straight appearance

Western Conference
Kitsap Pumas – 1st place in Northwest Division…. 4th appearance (2-3-1, 1-0 in PKs), 4th straight appearance (Amateur record) … have qualified in every year of their existence
Portland Timbers U23s – 4th place in Northwest Division* … 1st appearance
Fresno Fuego – 1st Southwest Division … 2nd appearance (3-1-0) … last appearance: 2003 (advanced to the Fourth Round and lost to the Los Angeles Galaxy. 1 of only 3 PDL teams to ever advance beyond the Third Round)
Ventura County Fusion – 2nd Southwest Division … 3rd appearance (1-1-1, 0-1 in PKs), 3rd straight appearance
*Canadian clubs Victoria Highlanders and Vancouver Whitecaps U23s were 2nd & 3rd

The entries for the NPSL will be determined at the league annual general meeting currently being held at the NSCAA convention in Kansas City. The entry for US Club Soccer is unknown at this time.

“US Soccer is excited about the changes made to the US Open Cup,” said USSF spokesperson Neil Beuthe. “In recent years, an increasing number of teams have shown a greater commitment to participate and win the tournament, which definitely played a factor in these changes. By having professional teams and a larger field from the amateur ranks allows for more opportunities for some intriguing match-ups throughout the competition. We hope these changes will create more overall interest and excitement.”

The prize money remains the same for 2012, with the winner taking home $100,000, the runner-up receiving $50,000 and the three teams that advances the furthest among Division 2, Division 3 and amateur clubs will be awarded $10,000 each.


  • Jay Walk says:

    “If both teams do that, then a blind draw will determine who hosts with the winner having their check deposited and _the loser having their check sent back._”

    This relieves the impression I had earlier where it was just said that both had to pay to have the right to a blind draw.

    Can’t wait to see what happens in the New York area. Maybe see Red Bulls actually in the city itself!

  • Davis Ferrell says:

    Where are the Carolina Railhawks?

  • Reading through the article, it looks good and expanding the number of teams is excellent. Sadly, the early start is definitely a negative for amateur clubs from smaller cities who depend on college players, just as you’ve pointed out in the article. Clubs from bigger cities who are able to capitalize on college players who are at local universities will have a clear advantage. You can’t have everything. In addition, it would’ve been nice if NPSL would have been able to announce their teams as well. Hopefully next year will be better.

    • Josh Hakala says:

      That’s true. At least the amateur clubs (PDL, NPSL) won’t have to start the tournament against pro teams. They would get a game against a fellow amateur team in Round 1. I’d rather have that then draw the Rochester Rhinos or Carolina RailHawks in what would likely be the first game of the year for the amateur club. And let’s not overlook the fact that it’s hard to get college players with their teams by May 15. Hopefully it won’t be too much of a problem. Maybe with the motivation of playing in the Open Cup will have kids making a special effort to report to their teams?

  • Boca Sounders says:

    Is there an entrance fee?

    If so, does it vary depending on the division the club/team plays in?

    • Josh Hakala says:

      There is an entry fee for each team to participate in the tournament also. And as far as your USASA/NPSL hypothetical … let’s cross that bridge when we get to it. Not sure how they would handle a situation like that, as unlikely as it is.

  • Boca Sounders says:

    What happens if in round 4 ($15,000 to host),
    somehow there ends up a match that pits a USASA team playing a NPSL team (or similar) and
    neither one can afford/want to host the game?

  • Boca Sounders says:

    Looks great so far!
    Now if we can get the USSF to seed each team/club into the first 3 rounds so that we can start some office pools!

    Also that would help all of the teams/clubs arrange/prepare for the next round of traveling/market the games and sell tickets!

    Any word on games being televised over the air or on the internet?

  • chris says:

    “This year, each team can apply to host each round and if both teams’ venues meet USSF’s standards, the federation will conduct a blind draw to determine the host.”
    What specifically are those standards?
    So the lower level teams could still get shut out of hosting an MLS if those standards are not met.

    • Josh Hakala says:

      Pretty standard stuff like field size, lights, locker rooms etc. I don’t know if those standards will increase this year or not, but that’s what it’s been in the past.

  • Matt says:

    When is the draw?

  • Jay Walk says:

    Trying to learn how qualifying is done in the lower divisions. Any idea how USASA will reward the 9th spot?

    • Josh Hakala says:

      It’s pretty easy:

      There is qualifying for each state (unfortunately the majority of states don’t participate, that’s a whole other issue). Each state crowns an Open Cup champion, that champion advances to regionals.

      There are 4 regions (Region I – Northeast / Region II – North & Midwest / Region III – South/Southeast / Region IV – West … MAP HERE:

      Each region holds their own qualifying tournament and the way it has been handled in recent years is that the two teams that advance to the regional final qualify for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. (2 finalists x 4 regions = 8 teams)

      What gets confusing is that the USASA holds their own Open Cup tournament, so the four winners of each regional tournament advance to USASA Nationals, where a USASA Open Cup champion is crowned.

      We don’t know how the 9th team will be determined, but my personal opinion is that the previous years’ USASA Open Cup champion (NY Pancyprian Freedoms) should be the 9th team. That would make sense. But we’ll see how it plays out.

  • Daniel Feuerstein says:

    This is a fantastic improvement of the US Open Cup. The open cup committiee and US Soccer has gotten it right.

    Let’s hope for an improvement in the TV department showing the games than just the final.

  • I love the changes. The more clubs involved the better. We need to do everything possible to make people understand that this is OUR Cup. This is what kids should be dreaming of when they’re 10 yrs old and raising their mother’s collanders in the back yard doing that fake crowd noise thing. To hell with Europe and all their ‘tradition’, we have something special Here. Now the task is to make more people aware of it in the early stages and to get some damn coverage for it. Look at the way Fox Soccer covers the FA Cup, showing games between clubs no where near the top tier that they would Never show if i wasn’t the FA Cup. If they, or ESPN for that matter, actually covered the entire tournament it would make a huge difference. As it is now, its like the tournament doesnt exist until the MLS clubs come in. Speaking of the MLS clubs, to give clubs, pro and amateur, even more incentive make the big boys all play their first game of the tournament onthe road. It would be a gigantic boost for the lower division club, both in terms of attendance/money and status. Imagine the Seattle Sounders beginning their title defense against Chattanooga FC in Tennessee. It would be nuts!

  • Michael says:

    Anyone pining for a PDL club hosting an MLS side, you can now kiss that dream goodbye.

    Unless the MLS club involved refuses to post the fee, $15,000 is simply too much money for all but the best-attended NASL clubs to front.

  • Matt says:

    I’m not convinced that the $15,000 is an insurmountable obstacle.

    There are some cost savings involved in not having to send your club to another city to play. If you send 20 players and coaches to another state to play you’ve got to pay for airfare and hotels. That’s probably more than $5,000-$10,000 right there.

    I suspect that if you can even sell 500 tickets at $10 each, you’re going to come close to breaking even.

  • Matt says:

    Question though – Is it only round one where they are pairing up teams geographically, or are they continuing that in rounds 2 and 3?

    • Josh Hakala says:

      They group the teams together in geographic groups of four and then when the first round is done, they will place the MLS teams in the bracket (technically there is no ‘bracket’) wherever makes the most geographic sense, and as the tournament goes, if USSF determines they can minimize travel somewhere in the tournament, they will move teams around — which is why they don’t put the tournament in bracket form.

  • Matt says:

    Not sure I understand what the groups of 4 are.

    Round 1 is the 32 amateur teams. Round 2 is 16 R1 winners v. 16 Div 2 and 3 teams. Round 3 is 16 R2 winners v. 16 MLS teams.

    I assume in R1 they will go with the 16 pairings that pit 1 PDL team v. 1 non-PDL team so as to minimize travel.

    So in R2 they will just try to match up the winners of R1 with whoever is closest? (Which is hard given there is about two Div2/3 teams west of the Mississippi).

    Then R3 the pit each MLS team with whoever wins R2 that’s closest?

    Are they really not going to have a bracket after that? Should we just pencil in Seattle v. Portland in the Quarterfinals now then? 😉

  • Jay Walk says:

    Thanks, Josh. Wow, that would make it a very huge award for the USASA Open Cup champion; two consecutive US Open Cup appearances.

    Now to wait for NPSL, I wonder which teams will be selected at the convention.

  • Daniel Feuerstein says:

    I would assume that last years division/conference winners in the NPSL would get the spot. But there will be a new division in the Southeast, they just haven’t made it on their teams section of their site yet.

    I would assume the four sides would have a qualifying tournament and the winner would automatically take that 6th spot while second place would have that 1/2 spot and face the 1/2 spot rep of US Club soccer.

    Once again this is just a theory, not an actual report.

  • chris says:

    It should be interesting especially for the 2 PDL teams in the Pacific Northwest – Kitsap Pumas and Timbers U23s. As it is right now, there are no other teams qualified from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah. So since the article above said teams from same qualifying pool will not match up in round #1, then probably some NPSL/USASA team(s) from California will play up north, or the Pumas and Timbers will go south to CA.

    There are only 3 NASL/USL-Pro teams west of the Mississippi River – San Antonio & NSC Minnesots Stars of NASL and LA Blues of USL-Pro. So for the second round, there will be some first round winners from the West Coast traveling away or some of the NASL/USL-Pro teams from Midwest going west.

    Should be interesting to see how the draws end up for 1st and 2nd rounds.

  • El Consuctor says:

    I love the new bidding format. Last year, Chattanooga got cheated by The Cup, being made to play at Pittsburgh. The sealed bid format made it possible for corruption – i.e. pro clubs to make less lucrative offers yet somehow still win the bid. I’ll always believe The Cup gave Pitt the site regardless of Chattanooga’s higher bid. Pittsburgh didn’t even sell tickets for the game, so how pricey could their bid have been?

  • ATLwantsMLS says:

    Are matchups determined by a blind draw each round?

    “The week after that, on May 29, Major League Soccer will take on the Second Round winners as the Seattle Sounders will begin their quest to win an unprecedented fourth straight Open Cup title. ” implies that the 2nd round winners will be paired with the MLS teams entering the qualification.

    • Josh Hakala says:

      Matchups in the first round are set, and after round 1 is complete, ussf determines where the mls teams will be inserted into the tournament based on geography. As the tournament continues, ussf reserves the right to move teams around to minimize travel, which is why we don’t have a traditional “bracket”

  • ATLwantsMLS says:

    I think that’s a big problem. We need to get sponsors/TV money so that geography isn’t a concern and we can get a true draw.

    There should be no human element in determining a matchup.

    I guess this gives team in the ‘southern’ region a benefit because there is no MLS around, which is unfortunate, because I would love Atlanta having the opportunity in hosting an MLS team.

    • Josh Hakala says:

      I think if we can reach a day where travel costs are completely covered (or prize money is given to teams who advance in each round — a pipe dream, I know), then that will go a long way to increasing the interest/participation for teams in this tournament.

      Also, Atlanta doesn’t have a great sports town history, but it would be nice to have a team in the Southeast again, (and Silverbacks is one of my favorite team names). I would love to be proven wrong in my skepticism. Although Detroit seems to have a head start on all the other potential expansion cities (SEE: stadium, owners, great sports town)

  • ATLwantsMLS says:

    Atlanta gets a bad reputation for being a ‘bad sports town’ when there is plenty of evidence that it’s not. Sure, it’s a transient, growing city, but saying Detroit is a ‘great sports town’ while saying Atlanta has issues is a stretch.

    Don’t you dare mention the Thrashers as a reason that proves Atlanta is a bad sports town;). The team was mismanaged, season ticket holders mistreated, and only one playoff appearance (with zero wins) in its history is not a great way to build fans. You had owners suing each other, arguing publicly, the list goes on and on and on. There was a very large diehard fanbase for the Thrashers and the 2 playoff games were the best atmosphere I’ve ever been in (including many SEC football games).

    The Braves have an anonymous owner who keeps cutting costs. The Falcons sell out almost every game and the owner (Arthur Blank) is the potential owner of the future MLS team (he hired Jim Smith from the Columbus Crew to be head of Marketing for the Falcons with the mindset of a future MLS team).

    I wrote an article defending Atlanta fans here:

    I am not the biggest fan of ‘Silverbacks’ name because it was a marketing ploy by the zoo. Though I don’t give a crap what it’s named, but my vote would go towards something that highlights the city’s railroad history (which is why we exist). Lokomotiv ATL or Terminus FC would be my votes.

  • Stephen Heisler says:

    You think that the Chatts got a bad draw, both Houston teams had to travel all the way to Charleston (Regals FC) and Orlando(ASC New Stars)… let me tell you, that was not easy.

    My team lost 2-0 to the Battery, but I have to think that we would have done much better if the game was much closer to Texas. For example, we would have had a much stronger team against an Austin or any area PDL or NASL team. Charleston was just so far away and not all of our best players were able to go.

  • Zachary Turco says:

    So i read on the bleacher report that the first three rounds will be determined by geography, so each team would play the closest team. My question is what happens if the USL PDL team Orlando City U-23s make it past the first round. This would leave them playing the team closest to them which is Orlando City (the USL team). Is the US open cup going to let that happen, or does Orlando City walkthrough to the third round?

    • Josh Hakala says:

      You read that here too 🙂 (SEE ABOVE) “The tournament will begin on May 15, the earliest the Open Cup has begun in the Modern Pro Era, with the 32 amateur clubs (also a Modern Pro Era record) matching up in geographic fashion. ”

      The goal of doing that will be to minimize travel and if the Orlando City U23s advance, they will play against someone reasonably close, but not the Orlando City USL Pro team. They will arrange it so that the only way they could play against the Orlando City USL Pro team is if they meet them in the Final. They do the same thing with the Chicago Fire and the Chicago Fire PDL team.

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