The United States Soccer Federation has announced a tweaked format for its marquee domestic club competition, the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
The 2015 Open Cup, which kicks off in late April, will include more teams than ever before in its 102nd edition as well as setting a fixed bracket to the championship match from the Round of 16.
The tournament will be played over the course of five months with the opening play-in matches of the tournament taking place from April 22-26 and culminating with the 2015 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Final on Sept. 29 or 30.
Another significant update to the tournament format will be a new, geographically-based random draw that will determine the Round of 16, a long-overdue move designed to reduce travel costs. As in earlier editions, matches from the beginning of the tournament to the fourth round will be determined on a geographic basis, with certain restrictions in place.
The 16 surviving teams from the fourth round will be divided geographically regardless of league affiliation into groups of four. Acknowledging potential conflicts of interest inherent in American soccer’s unique landscape, teams that have a shared-ownership affiliation will be precluded from being in the same geographic grouping. A random draw, scheduled for June 18, will determine the pairings within each group for the fifth round. The two winners from each group will subsequently face each other in the quarterfinal round.
This year’s winner will earn $250,000, a berth in the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions’ League and have its name engraved on the Dewar Challenge Trophy, one of the oldest nationally contested trophies in American team sports. The runner-up will take home $60,000, while the team that advances the furthest from each lower division will earn a $15,000 cash prize.
For the fourth consecutive year, every American professional soccer team will participate, with 17 from Major League Soccer, nine from the North American Soccer League and 21 from USL PRO. The field’s remaining 44 spots will be filled by amateur teams: 19 from the Premier Development League, 11 from US Adult Soccer Association (USASA) regional qualifying, 12 from the National Premier Soccer League, one from US Club Soccer and one from the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA). Forty of the 44 amateur sides will start in the first round, while the lone US Club Soccer and USSSA representatives each will face a USASA side in a play-in round to kick off the 2015 competition between April 22 and 26.
Seattle Sounders FC are the defending US Open Cup champion, having won a fourth tournament title (following triumphs in 2009, 2010 and 2011) after a 3-1 overtime road victory against the Philadelphia Union on Sept. 16, 2014.
Tournament Format and Match Dates:
•Date: March 29
Initial Pairings Announcement
•Date: April 8
•Play-In and First Round games as well as Second Round possibilities announced.
•Number of Games: 2
•Date: April 22-26
•Participants: Lone US Club Soccer (San Francisco City FC) and USSSA representative (TBA) each will face the USASA team geographically closest to it.
•Number of Games: 21
•Date: May 13
•Participants: Two winners from Play-In Round are joined by remaining 40 amateur sides.
•Description: Teams will be paired geographically with the restriction that teams from the same qualifying pool (e.g. USASA regional qualifiers, PDL, NPSL, etc.) cannot be paired to play each other.
•Number of Games: 21
•Date: May 20
•Participants: Winners of 21 First Round games face 21 USL PRO clubs.
•Description: At the time the First Round pairings are made, each USL PRO team will be matched geographically to a specific First Round pairing and be scheduled to play its winner.
•Number of Games: 15
•Date: May 27
•Participants: Winners of 21 Second Round games are joined by nine NASL sides.
•Description: After each Second Round matchup has been determined, each NASL team will be paired geographically to a specific Second Round matchup and be scheduled to play its winner. The 12 remaining Second Round matchups not paired with a Division II side will be paired up geographically, with the winners playing each other.
•Number of Games: 16
•Date: June 16-17
•Participants: Winners from 15 Third Round games are joined by 17 MLS clubs.
•Description: After each Third Round matchup has been determined, 15 of 17 MLS teams will be paired geographically to a specific Third Round matchup and be scheduled to play these winners, while two MLS teams will face each other to complete the bracket.
Fifth Round Draw
•Date: June 18
•The Fourth Round winners will be divided geographically (regardless of league affiliation) into groups of four, with teams who have a shared-ownership affiliation precluded from being in the same group. A random draw will determine the pairings within each group, resulting in a fixed bracket for the remainder of the tournament. Should two ownership-affiliated teams reach the semifinal round and be scheduled to face each other, the matches will be re-drawn after the quarterfinals to avoid this outcome.
•Number of Games: 8
•Date: June 30-July 1
•Fourth Round winners face each other as determined by the Fifth Round Draw.
•Date: July 21-22
•Date: Aug. 11-12
•Date: Sept. 29 or 30
Note: The day following each of the dates listed above is reserved as a make-up date in the event of a weather postponement.
Participating Professional Teams (47 total):
Major League Soccer (Division I – 17 teams, entering in the Fourth Round): Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids, Columbus Crew SC, D.C. United, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, LA Galaxy, New England Revolution, New York City FC, New York Red Bulls, Orlando City SC, Philadelphia Union, Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders FC, Sporting Kansas City
North American Soccer League (Division II – 9 teams, entering in the Third Round): Atlanta Silverbacks, Carolina RailHawks, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Indy Eleven, Jacksonville Armada, Minnesota United FC, New York Cosmos, San Antonio Scorpions, Tampa Bay Rowdies
USL PRO (Division III – 21 teams, entering in the Second Round): Arizona United, Austin Aztex, Charleston Battery, Charlotte Independence, Colorado Springs Switchbacks, Harrisburg City Islanders, LA Galaxy II, Louisville City FC, New York Red Bulls (USL PRO), Oklahoma City Energy, Orange County Blues, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Portland Timbers 2, Real Monarchs SLC, Richmond Kickers, Rochester Rhinos, Sacramento Republic, Saint Louis FC, Seattle Sounders 2, Tulsa Roughnecks, Wilmington Hammerheads
Distribution of Amateur-Level Places (44 total):
U.S. Adult Soccer Association Regional Qualifiers (11 places [nine entering in the First Round, two entering in the Play-In Round): Region I – Maryland Bays, New York Greek American Atlas; Region II – KC Athletics (Kan.), Madison Fire (Wis.); Region III – NTX Rayados (North Texas), Triangle Brigade (N.C.); Region IV – Cal FC (Calif.-South), Chula Vista FC (Calif.-South); Wild Card Berths (3): Mass Premier Soccer (Mass.), PSA Elite (Calif.-South), RWB Adria (Ill.). Five USASA regional qualifiers advanced to the third round in 2014, including Cinderella story PSA Elite, who reached the fourth round and faced the eventual champion Seattle Sounders.
Premier Development League (19 places, entering in the First Round): Division Winners: Des Moines Menace, FC Tucson, Jersey Express, Kitsap Pumas, Michigan Bucks, Ocala Stampede, Seacoast United Phantoms, Ventura County Fusion, West Virginia Chaos; At-Large Berths: AC Connecticut, Burlingame Dragons, BYU Cougars, Golden State Misioneros, Laredo Heat, Long Island Rough Riders, Midland/Odessa Sockers, Reading United, SW Florida Adrenaline, Western Mass Pioneers. The PDL is a national amateur league affiliated with the USASA. Two PDL sides advanced to the fourth round in 2014 (Orlando City U23s and Laredo Heat, which had the only amateur victory over a Division II club when they came from behind on the road to knock off the Fort Lauderdale Strikers 3-2 with a penalty kick in the last act of regulation time).
National Premier Soccer League (12 places, entering in the First Round): Brooklyn Italians, Chattanooga FC (Tenn.), Greater Binghamton Thunder (N.Y.), Lansing United (Mich.), Miami United (Fla.), Tulsa Athletics (Okla.), Upward Star (S.C.), five others to be determined in March. The NPSL is a national amateur league affiliated with the USASA. Two NPSL clubs (Brooklyn Italians and Chattanooga FC) reached the third round in 2014.
US Club Soccer (one place, entering in the Play-In Round): US Club Soccer is an organization member of U.S. Soccer participating in its fifth Open Cup tournament in the last six years. San Francisco City FC won the US Club Soccer qualifying place on Jan. 31 and is making its first trip to the tournament.
US Specialty Sports Association (one place, entering in the Play-In Round): The USSSA is an organization member of U.S. Soccer participating in its third consecutive Open Cup tournament. Its qualifier will be decided on March 15 from among seven teams: Colorado (3): Colorado Rovers, FC Denver, Harpos; Florida (2): KC Kaiser Internationale, Mellow Mushroom; Texas (2): Austin Thunder, Wickham FC.