The United States Soccer Federation announced another change to the format for the 2016 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. USL expansion side Rio Grande Valley FC (RGVFC) have been removed from this year’s competition at the request of their MLS affiliate, the Houston Dynamo.
As a result, the Kitsap Pumas of the Premier Development League (PDL) and the Chattanooga FC of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) will receive first round byes and will begin play in Round 2, which is scheduled for May 18.
In January, the federation confirmed that all professional teams that are owned by higher division clubs would be excluded from the US Open Cup. However, since the Dynamo do not own RGVFC, the USL side was included in the field of 92 for the 103rd edition of the tournament. The controversy with this decision was rooted in the fact that RGVFC are run by the coaching and front office staff of the Dynamo. So while, the MLS side does not have any financial control over the team, they have control over all other aspects of the club, including the coaches and the players on the field.
This announcement eliminates that controversy. But why was the decision made?
“We just wanted to be seen the same as all the other teams in MLS,” said Houston Dynamo spokesperson Matt Pederson. “We want to be a legimate Dynamo entity.”
Pederson said the request was made shortly after the federation made the Jan. 7 announcement that they would be included. He said the Dynamo should play by the same rules as other MLS clubs that own minor league professional clubs, like the Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders, and Sporting Kansas City.
Some have speculated that excluding RGVFC would give the Dynamo more depth as they attempt to win their first-ever US Open Cup title. Houston has reached the Semifinals twice (2006, 2009), but have never played in a Final since they were launched in 2006. Having the ability to call up players from Rio Grande Valley could help as they deal with schedule congestion and injuries. However, only players with MLS contracts are able to suit up for MLS teams in the tournament and Pederson was quick to point out that RGCFC currently only has one player under contract who is on loan from the Dynamo: Christian Lucatero.
RGVFC was scheduled to open the tournament in Round 2, but now there’s a hole to fill. To do that, the federation has awarded the Kitsap Pumas of the PDL and Chattanooga FC a bye into the Second Round. This marks just the fourth time in the Modern Era (1995-present) that an amateur team has started the tournament in Round 2 (2003, 2005, 2014).