2018 US Open Cup just got more rewarding: USSF announces changes, format, dates and team entries

Posted by | March 14, 2018

2016-usoc-logo-724-wideThe United States Soccer Federation (USSF) released its 2018 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Finalists’ Handbook this week (download it here). The 105th edition of the competition will feature 94 teams and is scheduled to kick off May 9. The tournament features a Modern Era record 33 different states represented and a record 37 different state associations.

Of the 94 teams, 52 of them are amateur clubs (20 PDL, 19 NPSL, 13 Open Division) and 42 are professional teams from Major League Soccer (Division 1) and the United Soccer League (Division 2). The North American Soccer League recently announced the cancellation of the 2018 season and for the second year in a row, there will not be a Division 3 pro league taking part in the Open Cup.

The First Round will feature all 52 amateur clubs with the 26 winners advancing to Round 2 (May 16) where they will be joined by all 22 United Soccer League clubs. Defending champion Sporting Kansas City and the rest of the Major League Soccer clubs will join the competition in the Fourth Round (June 4-5), where they will be joined by 12 Third Round winners.

The draw for the tournament is scheduled to take place on April 4.

Near the beginning of the handbook, USSF outlined all the changes they’re making from the previous year.

But which changes are the most significant?

Sporting Kansas City celebrates after defeating the New York Red Bulls 2-1 in the 2017 US Open Cup Final. Photo: Bob Larson

Sporting Kansas City celebrates after defeating the New York Red Bulls 2-1 in the 2017 US Open Cup Final. Photo: Bob Larson

Prize Money

For the first time since 2013, USSF has upped the prize money. The champion will now get $300,000, the runner-up will get $100,000, and the team that advances the furthest from each division will get $25,000 (up from $250k, $60k, and $15k, respectively).

While the top two increases aren’t all that significant ($50,000 is less than a minimum-salary MLS player earns), an additional $10,000 for the lower-league teams is. It represents perhaps an additional trip to an amateur tournament or an extra summer camp coach or two.

Moreover, the first prize money increase in five years could portend additional investment in a new era for USSF.

Travel Expenses

In an effort to prevent last year’s messy Christos FC situation, where the Baltimore-based amateur team had to crowd-fund their Third Round trip to Chicago, the USSF has dramatically revamped their travel expense policy for the Open Cup.

From the First Round through to the Semifinals, USSF plans to reimburse teams for up to $12,000 on travel expenses per away game. These reimbursements, according to USSF, will be paid a maximum of 75 days after the game. Further, USSF instructs teams to use an airfare service that would bill USSF directly. That would massively defray upfront costs for amateur teams.

Increased Regionalization

Perhaps as a result of USSF agreeing to take on more travel expenses, they’re prioritizing geographic proximity in every round.

In prior years, a PDL team, for example, would never be matched up with a fellow PDL team in the First Round. This year, under certain geographical conditions, that could change. Fans could potentially see, for example, PDL Conference rivals Myrtle Beach Mutiny and Charlotte Eagles play each other in the First Round on account of the nearest non-PDL amateur team would come from Maryland and Florida.

Proximity is emphasized from the First Round all the way through the Semifinals, meaning fans could see more regional matchups that are more common in recent years like the Sounders against the Timbers (the most common rivalry in the Modern Era with seven meetings). This is all for the sake of minimizing travel costs.

Schedule Flexibility

Christos FC pose for a team photo after their 2018 US Open Cup qualifying match against Phoenix SC. Photo: Christos FC

Christos FC pose for a team photo after their 2018 US Open Cup qualifying match against Phoenix SC. Photo: Christos FC

Starting in the Third Round, the Open Cup may allow hosting teams to change dates. This could help alleviate a common problem in the lower leagues where home venues cannot be secured two months in advance (this led to the forfeiture of the San Diego Flash in 2013) or on short notice.

Other changes include the freedom for tournament organizers to make changes to set match dates outside of the predetermined schedule, making alterations to the process of filing a protest and the enforcement of penalties for teams forfeiting or withdrawing from matches. Read about them all here.

2018 US Open Cup entries

Major League Soccer (Div. 1 professional – 20 teams)
Atlanta United FC, Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids, Columbus Crew SC, D.C. United, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, Los Angeles FC, Los Angeles Galaxy, Minnesota United FC, 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

All US-based MLS teams automatically qualify for the US Open Cup

United Soccer League (Div. 2 professional – 22 teams)
Charleston Battery, Charlotte Independence, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, FC Cincinnati, Fresno FC, Indy Eleven, Las Vegas Lights FC, Louisville City FC, Nashville SC, North Carolina FC, Oklahoma City Energy FC, Orange County SC, Penn FC (formerly Harrisburg City Islanders), Phoenix Rising FC, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Reno 1868 FC, Richmond Kickers, Sacramento Republic FC, Saint Louis FC, San Antonio FC, Tampa Bay Rowdies, Tulsa Roughnecks FC

All US-based USL teams automatically qualify for the US Open Cup

Premier Development League (Div. 4 amateur – Open Division National – 20 teams)
Charlotte Eagles, FC Golden State Force, FC Miami City, FC Tucson, Lakeland Tropics, Long Island Rough Riders, Michigan Bucks, Mississippi Brilla, Myrtle Beach Mutiny, New York Red Bulls U-23s, Ocean City Nor’easters, OKC Energy U-23s, Portland Timbers U23s, Reading United AC, San Francisco City FC, Seacoast United Phantoms, SIMA Aguilas, South Georgia Tormenta FC, The Village SC, Western Mass Pioneers

PDL determines their US Open Cup entries based on 2017 league results (DETAILS)

National Premier Soccer League (Div. 4 amateur – Open Division National – 19 teams)
AFC Ann Arbor, Brooklyn Italians, CD Aguiluchos USA, Dakota Fusion FC, Detroit City FC, Duluth FC, Elm City Express, Erie Commodores, FC Arizona, FC Motown (merged with Clarkstown SC Eagles), FC Wichita, Fort Worth Vaqueros, Inter Nashville FC, Kingston Stockade FC, Kitsap Soccer Club, Miami United FC, Midland-Odesssa FC, New Orleans Jesters, Orange County FC

NPSL determines their US Open Cup entries based on 2017 league results (DETAILS)

Open Division Local Qualifiers (Div. 4 amateur – 13 teams)
Azteca FC (Colorado)
Christos FC (Maryland)
FC Denver (Colorado)
FC Kendall (Florida)
Kendall Wanderers (Massachusetts)
La Maquina (California South)
Lansdowne Bhoys (New York East)
Los Angeles Wolves FC (California South)
NTX Rayados (Texas North)
Red Force FC (Florida)
Rochester River Dogz (New York West)
Santa Ana Winds FC (California South)
Sporting AZ FC (Arizona)

Open Division Local Qualifiers are determined based on the results of a qualifying tournament (DETAILS).

NOTE: El Farolito qualified for the tournament but was disqualified for switching leagues during the competition. 

As has been the case in past tournaments, professional teams that are “majority-owned or having their player roster materially controlled by a higher-level professional club” are no longer eligible for the tournament. This includes the following teams:

Bethlehem Steel FC (USL)
LA Galaxy II (USL)
New York Red Bulls II (USL)
Portland Timbers II (USL)
Real Monarchs SLC (USL)
Rio Grande Valley FC Toros (USL)
Seattle Sounders FC 2 (USL)
Swope Park Rangers (USL)

The following pairs of teams (amateur clubs and their parent club) will not be allowed to play each other until the Final:

1. New York Red Bulls (MLS) / New York Red Bulls U-23s (PDL)
2. Oklahoma City Energy FC (USL) / OKC Energy U-23s (PDL)
3. Portland Timbers (MLS) / Portland Timbers U-23s (PDL)

And finally, the San Jose Earthquakes (MLS) are not allowed to play against Reno 1868 FC of the USL (unless they both reach the Final) to, as the handbook states, “to prevent the possibility of a team who receives material technical support from another club from playing that side.”

2018 US Open Cup dates (subject to change)

April 4: 2018 US Open Cup First Round pairings and Second Round possible matchups announced
May 9: First Round
May 16: Second Round
May 23: Third Round
May 24: Fourth Round Draw
June 6: Fourth Round
June 7: Round of 16 Draw
June 20: Round of 16
July 18: Quarterfinals
July 19: Draw to determine hosts for Semifinals & Final
Aug. 8: Semifinals
Sept. 26: Final

NOTE: Any game in the Fourth Round, Round of 16, Quarterfinal Round and Semifinal Round where one of the participants has a league game the following Friday will be moved up a day (exception to this is when the team’s opponent is scheduled for a league game the preceding Sunday; in this case, the provisions elsewhere in the Open Cup Handbook to resolve such an issue prevail). Also, any game chosen by U.S. Soccer to be broadcast nationally is subject to being moved up a day. The Commissioner shall have the authority to set outside of the confirmed schedule the date for any match if such a change is in the best interests of the tournament.