UPDATE (1/29): As first reported by Magic City Soccer and confirmed by TheCup.us, Sunshine Conference champions Miami Fusion have folded. Due to the NPSL’s Open Cup classification rules that prioritize representation from each conference, Miami United, previously 28th on this list, are most likely to take that spot.
With the National Premier Soccer League’s (NPSL) season over, we now have a solid idea as to who, and who may not, qualify for next year’s Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
This definitive list is constructed with the help of US Soccer’s 2018 US Open Cup Handbook, which can be downloaded here. There are a couple things worth noting before we get started.
The first is likely berths available. NPSL has been sending teams to the Open Cup as a national league since 2011, when four teams (Brooklyn Italians, Chattanooga FC, Hollywood United Hitmen, and Madison 56ers) were awarded entry. Prior to that, dating back to 2003, the league had to qualify through the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA). The number of NPSL bids has increased every single year since then, reaching a peak last year wtih 18 entries. If that number holds true, US Soccer will likely accept at least 18 NPSL teams, and possibly more.
The second is influence from other leagues. An eight-team third-division pro league (National Independent Soccer Association) is scheduled to begin play next year and it’s possible they could take up space NPSL teams might otherwise occupy. However, the number of eligible USL teams ballooned to 21 in 2015 after a number of MLS teams added reserve teams to the league (the MLS-owned reserve teams were banned from the tournament the following year). Despite the increase in the number of pro teams, it did not affect the NPSL’s number of entries.
One thing that definitely won’t eat into the NPSL’s bids, according to the 2018 handbook, is the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL). They will not, according to US Soccer, be afforded national league status, meaning their teams will have to once again traverse the regional open division qualifying process.
Finally, one NPSL division—the Northeast’s Mid-Atlantic Division—seemingly shot itself in the foot this year by staying at four teams after the Myrtle Beach Mutiny jumped ship and joined the Premier Development League (PDL). The result was that those teams played just six regular season games, rendering them ineligible for the Open Cup (bylaws state you must play at least ten regular season games within your registered league).
That nearly precipitated an awkward situation when that division’s champion, the winless Legacy 76, found themselves a win away from the NPSL’s quarterfinals. Had they beaten the Elm City Express, they technically would have played ten NPSL games in total, giving organizers a headache. The Express ultimaetly brushed them aside, 4-0 to avoid a potential mess.
NPSL’s CLASSIFICATION RULES
With that out of the way, let’s get into NPSL’s classification rules. NPSL’s 92 Open Cup-eligible teams are divided among four conferences: South (which has 29 teams), Midwest (23), Northeast, and West (20 each). Open Cup bids are thus somewhat staggered—for example, the South would get a sixth team into the tournament before any other region gets a fifth.
That means that individual rankings beyond 1-8 are reserved for particular Conferences. No. 9 will always be a team from the South, No. 14 from the Midwest, and so on. One complication is that, since the Northeast and West have an identical number of eligible teams, they “share” rankings. So for example, No. 11 and No. 12 belong as a pair to the third-rated teams from the Northeast and West. The higher ranking then goes to the team with the higher points per game (ppg).
NPSL ranks largely by points per game, but prioritizes at least one Open Cup bid for every division. So when you read down the below list in the future and take into account teams folding, declaring themselves ineligible, or changing leagues, it’s important to consider both their conference and division. For example (and this is purely hypothetical), if the Erie Commodores (currently at No. 14) decide to make a run at Peter Wilt’s NISA, you wouldn’t go “next team up” down the list like you would with the PDL. You wouldn’t even pull the next Midwestern team (in this case the Dakota Fusion), since Erie are currently the lone representatives of the East Division. You’d have to pull the next team from the East, which in this case would be the unlisted Dayton Dynamo.
That’s that. Beyond the Final Four, who will almost certainly qualify, regardless of the final number of entries the league is awarded, teams are ranked by NPSL’s criteria as laid out in the 2018 handbook, with information relevant to that ranking listed in the parentheses:
1. Elm City Express (NPSL Semifinalist, Northeast Conference-Atlantic Blue Division)
The Express ran through the Atlantic Blue Division in their debut season, compiling a 9-1-2 record that earned them the No. 1 seed in the Northeast Conference going into the playoffs. They made good on that seed, shutting out both TSF FC and the overmatched Legacy 76 at home to reach the Conference Final. There, they defeated the Clarkstown Eagles 3-1 to reach the NPSL Semifinals, where they swept through CD Aguiluchos and Midland-Odessa by a combined score of 7-0 to claim the NPSL title in their first season.
2. Midland-Odessa FC (NPSL Semifinalist, South Conference-Lone Star Division)
Appearance: 2nd (2015 as PDL team)
Best Open Cup Finish: 2015 Round 2 (3-1 loss vs OKC Energy of USL)
Notable Open Cup Win: 3-1 win vs. Tulsa Athletic (NPSL) in 2015 First Round
Had they not switched from the PDL to the NPSL prior to the 2017 season, we’d be seeing the newly-rebranded Midland-Odessa FC in the US Open Cup for the third time in four years. Still, they seem to be wearing the league switch well, winning the Lone Star Championship after taking down Dutch Lions FC and Shreveport Rafters FC (who upset the Fort Worth Vaqueros in Round 1). A 1-0 win away to FC Wichita in the South Conference Semifinals is what pushed Midland-Odessa from the Open Cup bubble into automatic qualification. They kept their playoff run going with a 1-0 win over Inter Nashville in the regional final, before traveling to the Motor City to take on Detroit City FC in the NPSL Final Four. They beat Detroit City on penalties before succumbing 5-0 to Elm Cith Express in the final.
The Texas club will see their second Open Cup in their tenth season of existence. Their previous run went reasonably well, overcoming Tulsa Athletic (NPSL) 3-1 at home before succumbing to the USL’s OKC Energy by the same scoreline.
3. Detroit City FC (NPSL Semifinalist, Midwest Conference-Great Lakes Division)
Best Open Cup Finish: 2016 Second Round (Drew 1-1 at Louisville City of USL, Lost 3-1 in PKs)
The rambunctious Detroit City FC supporters will get to see “Le Rouge” in the Open Cup for the fourth time in five years. Detroit City qualified in style this year. After a slow start to the season, they ended up with nine wins in their 14 league games to ensure they’d at least be in the NPSL’s top 14. But they didn’t stop there, twice scoring five goals in playoff games against Dakota Fusion and Duluth FC to reach the Midwest Final against Great Lakes rival AFC Ann Arbor where they prevailed at home, 3-2. They advanced to the NPSL Semifinals where they dropped a penalty decision to Midland-Odessa FC on Aug. 5.
While Detroit City’s first two Open Cup runs ended in disappointment, including a 3-0 thumping against local rival Michigan Bucks (PDL), their third saw them overcome the Bucks in penalty kicks after a scoreless draw to advance to the Second Round for the first time in club history. They would remain undefeated in that 2016 tournament, heartbreakingly succumbing to USL’s Louisville City in penalty kicks. The club is still seeking its first victory in the tournament (matches that end in penalty kicks are officially listed as a draw), but they will have plenty of supporters behind them to try to accomplish that first win.
4. CD Aguiluchos USA (NPSL Semifinalist, West Conference-Golden Gate Division)
Appearance: 3rd (2014, 2016)
Best Open Cup Finish: 2016 Round 2 (5-0 loss at Sacramento Republic of USL)
Notable Open Cup Win: 3-0 win at San Francisco City FC (US Club Soccer) in 2016 Round 1
The ambitious CD Aguiluchos USA out of Oakland, Calif. will be making their third Open Cup appearance after running riot over the Golden Gate Division and crushing Sonoma County Sol 4-0 in the Division Final. After a 4-2 win over Kitsap SC in the regional semifinal, they edged Orange County FC 1-0 to earn a spot in the Final Four, where they lost 2-0 to eventual champions Elm City Express.
The club has yet to host an Open Cup game, going 1-2 on the road in their short Open Cup history. Their first appearance in 2014 ended abruptly with a 2-1 loss to the Ventura County Fusion (PDL), but they improved on that two years later when they traveled across the bay to rout San Francisco City FC 3-0 when City was an up-and-coming team out of US Club Soccer. Unfortunately, they ended up being swept away by the Sacramento Republic 5-0, a team that would end up as the USL’s Western Conference top seed in 2016.
5. Inter Nashville FC (NPSL Quarterfinalist, South Conference-Southeast Division)
Inter Nashville qualifies for the Open Cup in truly their first season of existence. Not only did Inter Nashville have to make it through the incredibly competitive Southeast Division, they had to win four playoff games on the road. A loss at any stage before the Eastern Conference Final would have dropped them from the qualifying list altogether.
But that didn’t happen. They first traveled across the state to Chattanooga to nab a win against Open Cup regular Chattanooga FC in Finley Stadium. They then went down to New Orleans to take down the Knoxville Force and the previously-unbeaten New Orleans Jesters in consecutive days to earn the Southeast crown. As if that wasn’t enough, they earned their spot in the South Conference Final with a 1-0 upset of the 11-1-0 Sunshine champion Miami Fusion. Their playoff run would end with a 1-0 loss to Midland-Odessa FC in the quarterfinals.
6. AFC Ann Arbor (NPSL Quarterfinalist, Midwest Conference-Great Lakes Division)
Appearance: 2nd (2017)
Best Open Cup Finish: 2017 First Round (1-0 loss at Michigan Bucks of PDL)
AFC Ann Arbor barely snuck into the 2017 US Open Cup after Indy Eleven withdrew their NPSL team from consideration. They will need no such circumstance next year for 2018, as the third-year club (second year in the NPSL) that shares a town with the University of Michigan qualified directly to the Midwest Conference Semifinals after a remarkable 12-1-1 regular season. A 1-0 semifinal win over the Dayton Dynamo probably wasn’t even necessary for Open Cup qualification, but it did propel them from 14th into the top eight. Their playoff run came to end in the regional final when they lost 3-2 on the road to their Great Lake Division rival Detroit City FC.
They’ll look to improve on their inaugural Open Cup run, which ended with a narrow 1-0 loss in the opening round to amateur powerhouse Michigan Bucks (PDL). A chance at revenge in next year’s first round is possible—the Michigan Bucks will also qualify—but not given as Detroit City FC will also enter the Michigan Open Cup fray.
7. Orange County FC (NPSL Quarterfinalist, West Conference-Southwest Division)
While technically an NPSL expansion team, this amateur team coached by U.S. Men’s National Team legend Paul Caligiuri (he scored the goal against Trinidad and Tobago that sent the U.S. to the 1990 World Cup) had been kicking about the SoCal Premier League since 2009.
However, having never even applied to participate in the local qualifying tournaments, this will be Orange County FC’s first involvement in the Open Cup. They got here by upsetting unbeaten FC Arizona on the road by a score of 2-0 to take the Southwest Division championship. Their playoff run would end one game shy of the final four, losing to CD Aguiluchos USA, 1-0.
8. Clarkstown SC Eagles (NPSL Quarterfinalist, Northeast Conference-Keystone Division)
Appearance: 3rd (2016, 2017)
Best Open Cup Finish: First Round (2016, 2017)
The Eagles out of Clarkstown, New York will be looking for their first Open Cup win next year as a Keystone championship and a 6-3 Eastern Conference Semifinal win over Kingston Stockade propelled them into their third consecutive Open Cup berth.
There’s no shame in losing on the road to perrennial Open Cup power Reading United, as Clarkstown did in this year’s first round. They may still be kicking themselves for their 2016 performance however, as a win over Reading would have earned them a matchup against the NASL’s New York Cosmos. Still, making the Open Cup three times running is no small feat.
9. FC Wichita (South Conference-Heartland Division, 2.5 ppg)
Appearance: 3rd (2016, 2017)
Best Finish: 2017 Round 2 (4-3 AET loss vs. Saint Louis FC)
Notable Win: 1-0 (AET) win vs. Azteca FC (USSSA) in 2017 First Round
FC Wichita will enjoy their third consecutive Open Cup appearance after narrowly losing one of the year’s most entertaining games in their 4-3 extra time loss to Saint Louis FC. The regular season was not anywhere near as dramatic for the Kansas club, as they secured the regular-season Heartland championship by a full nine points.
10. Duluth FC (Midwest Conference-North Division Champion, 2 ppg)
Thanks to the Minnesota Thunder, Minnesota Stars and Minnesota United FC, the Land of 10,000 Lakes is no stranger to the US Open Cup. However, an amateur team from the state has never qualified for the tournament in the Modern Era (1995-present).
That will change when Duluth FC enters the first round next year. They earned the No. 3 seed in the Midwest (a region that, thanks in large part to all the new Minnesota teams, now has the second-most Open Cup-eligible teams in NPSL instead of the fewest) after a 9-2 shellacking of the Sioux Falls Thunder on the final day of the regular season clinched the North regular season title.
This was Duluth FC’s third year of existence but their first in the NPSL and it went pretty well, reaching the Midwest Semifinals before falling 5-2 on the road to Detroit City FC.
11. Kitsap SC (West Conference-Northwest Division Champion, 2 ppg)
Appearance: 7th (2009-12, 2015-16 – all as PDL club)
Best Finish: 2016 Round 4 (2-0 loss at Seattle Sounders FC of MLS)
Notable Win: 3-1 win at Sacramento Republic (USL) in 2016 Third Round
For years, the Kitsap Pumas dominated the Northwestern region of the PDL, even winning the whole thing in 2011, before making the move to NPSL this year. The dominance continues, as Kitsap SC (they dropped the ‘Pumas’ moniker when they moved) won the Northwest Division with a game to spare when they took down FCM Portland 1-0 at home. Roy Lassiter’s men then beat Portland again in the playoffs before falling to CD Aguiluchos in the Western Semifinals.
The club from Bremerton, Washington is one of the few in NPSL who have managed to beat a pro team in the Open Cup – though they of course were in the PDL at the time. The 2016 Third Round win over Sacramento was truly one of the year’s more shocking results, as the Republic would end the USL season as the top team in the Western Conference. Kitsap is also one of NPSL’s more experienced Open Cup teams as they have double the Open Cup appearances as the next closest likely qualifier (6 to Detroit City FC’s 3).
12. Kingston Stockade (Northeast Conference-Atlantic White Division, 1.83 ppg)
The club in upstate New York, run by Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley, has certainly made a lot of noise at their home games and has earned a lot of attention in the American Soccer world. Next year, they’ll get to do the same in the US Open Cup.
After an opening-game loss to Hartford City, Stockade got hot, winning seven of their next eight games. They built up enough of a lead to withstand a season-ending two-game losing streak and hold on to the Atlantic White Division title. Their playoff run ended in the Conference Semifinals with a 6-3 loss to Clarkstown but the season overall was likely enough to be invited to their first-ever Open Cup.
13. Miami United (South Conference-Sunshine Division, 1.83 ppg)
Appearance: 3rd (2015, 2017)
Best Finish: Round 2 (2015: 1-0 loss at Charleston Battery, 2017: 2-1 loss vs Jacksonville Armada)
Notable Win: 2-1 win vs Boca Raton FC, 2017 1st Round
Miami United’s Open Cup dreams were thought over after the Fusion ran through NPSL’s Sunshine Division, which only sends one team to the NPSL playoffs. However, with the Fusion dropping out, Miami United will look to make their third Open Cup appearance in four years.
Although they have yet to topple a pro team, they’re one of the few NPSL teams with consistently good first-round results. They knocked off SW Florida Adrenaline (PDL) in the 2015 first round before beating Sunshine Division rivals Boca Raton FC in last year’s opening round (they had qualified through Open Qualifying and kept a team in the American Premier Soccer League).
14. Erie Commodores (Midwest Conference-East Division, 1.75 ppg, +1 Regular-Season Goal-Differential over Dayton Dynamo)
A two-goal win early in the season against the Dayton Dynamo ended up making all the difference between making the Open Cup and not. Erie and Dayton split the first NPSL tiebreaker (head-to-head points) but Erie narrowly edged out Dayton on the second (head-to-head goal differential). This leaves the Dynamo, who would go on to beat Erie on the road in the playoffs before a 1-0 loss to Ann Arbor, completely out of the Open Cup picture.
Such is the cruel world of NPSL Open Cup qualification. Either way, Erie will enjoy their first-ever Open Cup berth in 10 seasons of existence. The Commodores bossed the early days of the NPSL, when Open Cup slots were few and far between. However, this is not the club’s first time qualifying for the tournament. After winning the Great Lakes Division title in 2012, the Erie Admirals (as they were known then), earned a spot in the 2013 US Open Cup, but declined the invitation, citing financial and player availability challenges.
15. New Orleans Jesters (South Conference-Southeast Division, 2.33 ppg)
The Jesters have been New Orleans’ soccer team since 2003. And after a dominating season in a tough NPSL division that included Chattanooga FC, Knoxville Force, and eventual quarterfinalist Inter Nashville, they’ll likely be heading to their first-ever US Open Cup.
After an undefeated 8-0-4 regular season, the Jesters were chosen to host the Southeast Division Finals. While a loss to Inter Nashville dashed automatic qualifying dreams, the team’s impressive regular season was likely enough to secure an Open Cup berth.
By qualifying, the Jesters would become just the second amateur club from Louisiana to qualify for the US Open Cup in the Modern Era (1995-present), joining CD Motagua of New Orleans who made their debut in 2016.
16. FC Arizona (West Conference-Southwest Division, 2.5 ppg)
Much like the Jesters, FC Arizona tumbled down the qualification list despite an undefeated regular season after an untimely playoff loss. Unlike the Jesters, FC Arizona finds itself here in its very first season of existence.
And what a start. They typically play more regular season games out West (16 compared to 10-14 in most divisions) but that didn’t matter to FC Arizona. They won 12 times and drew the other four to finish alongside FC Wichita with the second-most points per game in the entire NPSL. And unless the Open Cup committee reduces the number of NPSL teams for the first time ever, Aidan Davison’s squad from Mesa will reap those rewards in the tournament next year.
17. Brooklyn Italians (Northeast Conference-Atlantic Blue Division, 2.33 ppg)
Appearance: 7th in Modern Era (2010-15)
Best Finish: 1979, 1991 US Open Cup Champions
The old Brooklyn club likely clinched a 2018 berth on the heels of a 9-2-1 season that ended abruptly in the playoffs at the hands of TSF FC, a club that dates back to the early 1990s. The Italians’ regular season performance might be enough to send them back to the tournament for the first time since 2015.
It’s impressive in American Soccer that a club can exist for 68 years and still be relevant in the nation’s oldest cup competition. The Italians were founded back in 1949 and have won the tournament twice (1979, 1991). This would be the seventh appearance in the Open Cup for Brooklyn in the Modern Era (1995-present) after the club rattled off an NPSL record six straight appearances from 2010-15.
18. Fort Worth Vaqueros (South Conference-Lone Star Division, 2.2 ppg)
Nick Stavrou’s Vaqueros narrowly clinched the Lone Star regular season title, beating out two rivals, Midland-Odessa FC and Dutch Lions FC, by a single point. However, they wouldn’t get the chance to face either in the divisional playoffs as they were taken out by the No. 4 seed Shreveport Rafters.
That loss nearly cost them dearly, as did Midland-Odessa’s run to the quarterfinals (ensuring they would finish no higher than fifth in the Southern pecking order). But still, US Soccer has yet to take Open Cup berths from the NPSL so it’s likely that the four-year-old club will enjoy its first Open Cup next season.
19. Dakota Fusion (Midwest Conference-North Division, 1.93 ppg)
20. New Jersey Copa FC (Northeast Conference-Keystone Division, 2.3 ppg)
21. Riverside Coras (West Conference-Southwest Division, 2.19 ppg)
22. Dutch Lions FC (South Conference-Lone Star Division, 2.1 ppg)
23. Minneapolis City SC (Midwest Conference-North Division, 1.79 ppg, 8 wins)
24. Knoxville Force (South Conference-Southeast Division, 1.92 ppg)
25. Albion SC (West Conference-Southwest Division, 2.13 ppg)
26. West Chester United (Northeast Conference-Keystone Division, 2 ppg)
27. Med City FC (Midwest Conference-North Division, 1.79 ppg, 7 wins)
28. Chattanooga FC (South Conference-Southeast Division, 1.83 ppg)
29. TSF FC (Northeast Conference-Atlantic Blue Division, 1.92 ppg)
30. FCM Portland (West Conference-Northwest Division, 1.8 ppg)