UPDATE: All three Play-In Round games will take place on May 6. Click here for the full schedule.
A little over two weeks ago, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) announced the format for the 2018 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. The 105th edition of the United States championship tournament would feature 94 teams, but last Friday afternoon, in an unprecedented decision, the federation added three teams that didn’t originally qualify for the competition into the 2018 field.
The New York Cosmos B, Jacksonville Armada Under-23s, and Miami FC 2, the three reserve teams for the remaining clubs in the North American Soccer League (NASL), will be allowed to enter the US Open Cup. Since the NASL canceled the 2018 season, the three teams shifted their remaining players to their reserve squads which all compete in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) as professional teams.
In previous years, the only way for NPSL teams entered the US Open Cup is through the NPSL qualifying process, which is determined (somewhat complexly) by the previous year’s league and playoff results. Cosmos B and the Armada U-23s failed to qualify and Miami FC 2 are a 2018 expansion team and did not compete in league play last season.
The statement from the US Open Cup Committee read: “The Committee carefully considered the teams’ exceptional situation which involved all three moving from Professional Division II status in 2017 to solely Open Division league participation earlier this year. Since the move occurred after the Open Division league’s 2018 Open Cup entry deadline in mid-2017, the Committee decided to allow the three teams the opportunity to compete in the 2018 edition of the U.S. Open Cup.”
All three teams accepted their invitations and will enter the tournament in a newly-created Play-In Round that is scheduled to take place the weekend of May 5-6.
As a member of the @usopencup committee, I am happy with this outcome. Everyone should have a chance to participate in this prestigious cup, and I’m happy that we gave the @JaxArmadaFC, The @NYCosmos and the @TheMiamiFC an opportunity to compete. Good luck to all the teams
— John Paul Motta (@JohnPMotta) March 31, 2018
US Soccer announced on Monday, April 2 that the New York Cosmos B will face the Brooklyn Italians FC of the NPSL, while the PDL’s FC Miami City will take on Miami FC 2, and The Villages SC (PDL) will face off with the Jacksonville Armada. The winners of those three matches will move on to the First Round on May 9.
The dates, times and locations for the Play-In Round will be announced at a later date. Brooklyn, FC Miami City and The Villages will have the first option to host and according to the press release, they have until 4 p.m. ET on Friday, April 6 to submit their hosting proposal to the federation.
The USSF will also announce the First Round pairings and the potential Second Round matchups on Wednesday, April 4.
“These three teams, the players and the coaching staff and their fans, who had planned to participate in the 2018 US Open Cup, and because they are no longer in a professional league and because now they are participating in an amateur league, they missed all of the deadlines to participate in the 2018 tournament,” said John Motta, President of the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA) and Open Cup committee member. “This situation was out of their control … and in my opinion, we had to find a way to allow these three teams to participate. Because it’s not the fault of any of the players, their fans, their coaches, so let’s take the politics aside and let them play.”
The NASL lost their Division 2 professional sanctioning on Sept. 3, 2017, which was after the registration deadline to enter the Open Division qualifying tournament for the 2018 US Open Cup.
The argument, as detailed in a letter submitted to the USSF by New York Cosmos chairman Rocco Commisso and shared on social media, laid out a number of complaints.
One of them being that Indy Eleven and North Carolina FC both left the NASL and were automatically entered into the US Open Cup as members of the USL. The main difference between the two situations is that since 2012, every US-based professional team is automatically entered into the competition. The Premier Development League (PDL) and the NPSL both choose their Open Cup entries based on the previous season’s results. All other teams are required to enter the Open Division qualifying tournament.
The letter also cited MLS (Los Angeles FC) and USL (Nashville SC, Las Vegas Lights FC, Fresno FC) expansion teams as examples of clubs that have been allowed to enter the tournament. Again, all professional teams are automatically entered into the Open Cup, so this is common practice.
Miami FC CEO Sean Flynn also submitted a similar letter to the US Soccer Federation.
TheCup.us has confirmed that the three NPSL teams will all be competing in the 2018 league season and the US Open Cup tournament as fully professional teams. There is no rule, either at the federation level or with the NPSL itself that prevents them from doing this. Although they are in the minority, they are not the only NPSL teams that compete in the league as professionals.
Earlier this year, amateur side El Farolito, winners of the 1993 US Open Cup, were disqualified for switching leagues during the qualifying process. They made the move from the San Francisco Soccer Football League (SFSFL) to the NPSL. Motta was quick to point out the difference between the two situations. One of them had a choice.
“These NASL teams were left out, through no fault of their own … while made a decision to change leagues mid-way through and that’s a clear violation of the Open Cup bylaws,” said Motta.
Section 202c1i of the Open Cup Handbook clearly states: “To remain eligible throughout the tournament, a team must remain a playing member in good standing within its club/league competition, starting from the Open Division entry deadline (which was last summer) and continuing until the Open Cup Final for the competition year.”
One minor detail is that the Jacksonville Armada Under-23s, who prior to this year were largely made up of college players, are putting that franchise on hiatus as the team converts to a fully-professional roster. Miami FC 2, which was announced prior to the NASL canceling the 2018 season, will remain under that name despite the team being converted to a roster full of NASL players. The New York Cosmos will be entering their usual professional roster under the name “Cosmos B”, therefore, just like Miami FC 2, they will be making the club’s first tournament appearance.
With this change, for the first time in tournament history, the NPSL will have more entries (22) than the PDL (20). This will also give the state of Florida 11 entries and the state of New York seven entries in this year’s tournament, both are Modern Era records.
Ian Foster also contributed to this report