UPDATE: The USSF released the format for the 2019 US Open Cup and Chattanooga FC decided to withdraw from the tournament, which pushed Midland-Odesssa Sockers FC up to 12th place, and earned them a spot in the 106th edition of the tournament.
The National Premier Soccer League’s (NPSL) 2018 season was filled with first-year clubs reaching for the brass ring, historic clubs looking to show they’re still a powerful force, former professional clubs looking for a league of their own, and much more. With everything settled down, we now have a better idea which teams have the best chance to qualify for the 2019 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
How this list is made is determined by using the 2019 US Open Cup Handbook, which can be downloaded here.
When the NPSL was founded in 2003, teams were required to qualify through the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA). It wasn’t until 2011 when the league was awarded national league status and received their own spots in the competition. What started with only four berths in 2011 has gradually grown to a Modern Era (1995-present) high of 22 teams last year.
With the changing soccer structure, including the creation of new Division III league (USL League One) and new teams being added to both professional leagues (MLS & USL Championship), it’s currently unknown how many berths will be allocated to the NPSL teams. This information is expected to be announced by the US Soccer Federation some time this month.
This sort of change isn’t anything new to the tournament. Back in 2011, the inaugural seasons of the North American Soccer League (NASL) (then Division II) and USL Pro (then Division III) added some interest to United States Soccer Federation sanctioning process. The federation’s decision to not sanction the NASL in January 2011, due to concerns regarding the league’s financial stability, meant teams from it were not able to compete in the 2011 US Open Cup despite provisional sanctioning later being given in February. USL League One has already been given sanctioning as a Division III league as of Dec. 14, 2018.
Recent announcements might lead some to conclude that the number of NPSL teams that will qualify for the 106th edition of the US Open Cup will be reduced. The US Soccer Federation announced on social media that a fourth round of qualifying would be needed for the Open Division Local Qualifying tournament, which is expected to trim the number of teams to eight clubs (2018 USASA Amateur Cup champion Bavarian SC and the seven fourth round winners), which is down from 13 teams in 2018. With the increase in the number of teams entering from the professional leagues (MLS, USL Championship, USL League One), it seems as though the number of amateur teams may be getting cut to make room.
NPSL’s CLASSIFICATION RULES
Heading into the 2019 US Open Cup, the NPSL has 98 teams that are eligible for the competition divided into four regions: Northeast (26), South (30), Midwest (22), and West (20). Tournament bids are staggered in a way to reward regions with more teams – for example, the South Region would get a sixth team into the tournament before any of the other three regions get a fifth.
The first eight possible berths are awarded to teams that advanced deep into the 2018 NPSL playoffs. Slots one and two are reserved for the champion and runner-up, respectively. Slots three and four are given to the teams that reached the semifinals and teams four through eight are held by the remaining quarterfinalists.
NPSL ranks largely by points per game, but prioritizes at least one Open Cup bid for every division. It’s important to consider where a team plays (conference and division) when you read the teams listed and take extraneous factors into consideration such as teams folding, declaring themselves ineligible, changing leagues, or more.
It’s near certain that teams listed in the top eight are all but guaranteed a spot in the 2019 US Open Cup. After that, teams are ranked based on criteria that the NPSL has come up with in accordance with the Open Cup Committee. This information can be found inside the 2019 edition of the handbook (pg. 14).
As soon as we know how many tournament spots the NPSL is being awarded, we will know who is in and who is not. Until then, here is the order that the teams would qualify:
1. Miami FC 2 (NPSL Champion, South Region – Sunshine Conference)
Number of US Open Cup appearances: 3 (2016-18 … including Miami FC NASL history)
Best Open Cup Finish: 2018 Second Round (3-1 loss vs Miami United FC of NPSL)
Miami FC 2 was born out of necessity after the cancellation of the 2018 North American Soccer League season left the first team with no professional league while legal proceedings played out. While the lawyers deliberated Miami FC 2, with a roster full of professional players, ran through the Sunshine Conference with an 8-1-3 regular season record, a +25 goal differential, and both the regular season and conference championships. The team continued to dominate in the national bracket of the playoffs as well, outscoring their opponents 10-2 over the course of four games. The final saw the franchise win its first national championship over FC Motown, 3-1, in Madison, New Jersey.
As the league champion, they are definitely going to get in. The only question is whether or not they will compete under the name “Miami FC” or “Miami FC 2”.
2. FC Motown (NPSL Finalist, Northeast Region – Keystone Conference)
Number of US Open Cup appearances: 3 (2016-18 as Clarkstown Eagles)
Best Open Cup Finish: 2018 Round 2 (3-1 loss vs Penn FC of USL)
Following a re-brand after the 2017 season, with FC Motown merging with the Clarkstown Eagles, the club will be looking to bring its regular season success onto the national stage in 2019. FC Motown nearly went undefeated during the regular season by going 9-1-0 in the Keystone Conference, clinching the regular season title in the process. The team, led by former MLS player Dilly Duka, followed this up by blowing past fellow New Jersey side FC Monmouth, 4-1, before avenging its sole loss in the conference championship in a close contest with West Chester United that they won 4-3 in a penalty kick shootout (after a 1-1 draw)
Following a blowout of FC Baltimore in the Regional Quarterfinals, the team upset a strong New York Cosmos B side, 3-2, on a rainy night in Manhattan. In the national semifinals, a late David Nigro goal in the 121st minute against FC Mulhouse Portland gave Motown the win, 2-1. Following a loss to Miami at home in the NPSL final, Motown will be looking to expand the culture of success it’s created in its fourth consecutive berth since the team’s founding in 2012.
3. Duluth FC (NPSL Semifinalist, Midwest Region – North Conference)
Number of US Open Cup appearances: 1 (2018)
Best Open Cup Finish: 2018 Round 2 (2-0 loss vs Saint Louis FC of USL)
Duluth FC has already surpassed the success of its inaugural NPSL season in 2017, and hopes to do the same in what is likely the club’s second trip to the US Open Cup. In an already burgeoning amateur scene in Minnesota, Duluth was not even the best team in North Conference as it came behind Minneapolis City SC in the final standings. However, the team’s record of 8-2-4 was enough to earn it a place in the Midwest Region quarterfinals. From there, the team’s string of three close wins, two of which were decided by penalty shootout, landed the BlueGreens in the national semifinals.
Despite falling to eventual champions Miami FC 2, 3-0, Duluth’s first Midwest Region title and overall record should be enough to see it into the competition for the second year in a row.
4. FC Mulhouse Portland (NPSL Semifinalist, West Region – Northwest Conference)
Number of US Open Cup appearances: None
FC Mulhouse Portland emerged out of the five team Northwest Conference as a runner-up in the regular season, but pushed forward all the way to the NPSL National Semifinals behind a solid offensive unit.
The team, formerly known as Portland Spartans FC, has already outdone any of its previous accomplishments since its founding in 2014. Despite losing in the semifinals to FC Motown on an extra time goal, the team’s impressive victory over Orange County FC, 6-4, in the quarterfinals helped establish it as a viable threat. With a West Region championship, a final four appearance, and an ever growing partnership with FC Mulhouse France, the Portland side will be looking to make an impact come 2019.
5. Little Rock Rangers ((NPSL Quarterfinalist, South Region – Heartland Conference)
Number of US Open Cup appearances: None
Little Rock is likely on their way to the US Open Cup for the first time after the club’s best season in their three-year history in the NPSL. After a brief playoff appearance in 2017, the Rangers’ 7-3-0 regular season record earned it the second seed in the Heartland Conference playoffs – which they won from top-seeded FC Wichita 5-3 in a penalty shootout after a scoreless draw. An impressive win over the Laredo Heat led the team to its first regional final, where they would fall to eventual champion Miami FC 2, 3-0.
At the number five spot, the Rangers are almost assured a spot in next year’s tournament, which would make them the first Arkansas-based club to ever qualify in the US Open Cup’s 105-year history.
6. New York Cosmos B (NPSL Quarterfinalist, Northeast Region – North Atlantic Conference)
Number of US Open Cup appearances: 5 (2014-2018 … including New York Cosmos NASL history)
Best Open Cup Finish: 2018 Fifth Round (2014, 2015, 2016)
While in a somewhat similar situation to Miami FC 2, New York Cosmos B’s perfect regular season, 10-0-0, and North Atlantic Conference title is worthy of an Open Cup berth.
The New York Cosmos has had a reserve team in the NPSL since 2015, and even won the league title in their debut season. The “B” team has always been excluded from the US Open Cup due to the rule that a professional team owned by a higher-level professional team cannot take part in the tournament. However, when the NASL was on hiatus, the Cosmos senior team didn’t have a league to play in, and were excluded from the 2018 US Open Cup. With that being the case, the US Soccer Federation made a special exception and allowed the Cosmos, Miami FC and the Jacksonville Armada FC to enter their NPSL sides into the competition.
The “B” team’s short run in the 2018 Open Cup was a vast contrast from its regular season performance. The team outscored its opponents 40-8 over ten games and reached the Northeast Region finals.
7. AFC Ann Arbor (NPSL Quarterfinalist, Midwest Region – Great Lakes Conference)
Number of US Open Cup appearances: 2 (2017, 2018)
Best Open Cup Finish: 2017 First Round (2017, 2018)
For the second year in a row, AFC Ann Arbor finished as the regular season Great Lakes Conference champions and reached the final for the NPSL Midwest Region.
The team’s regular season ended with a record of 9-1-2, including a rout of FC Indiana, 9-0, at home. This performance earned the team the second seed in the Midwest Region playoffs, where it defeated NPSL newcomer Cleveland SC, 1-0, in the regional semifinals. After playing to a 3-3 draw in the Regional Finals against Duluth FC at home, missed penalty kicks from defender Matthieu Braem and midfielder Michael Shaikly allowed the visitors to advance, 4-3 in the tiebreaker.
8. Orange County FC (NPSL Quarterfinalist, West Region – Southwest Conference)
Number of US Open Cup appearances: 1 (2018)
Best Open Cup Finish: 2018 Second Round (2-0 loss at Fresno FC of USL)
Much like its inaugural NPSL season, Orange County FC, led by their head coach and Hall of Famer Paul Caligiuri reached the West Region final as a lower seed and they upset a higher-seeded team.
The team’s regular season record, 7-1-4, earned it third place in the Southwest Conference and a spot in the conference’s play-in-game to the playoffs. After defeating FC Arizona in the playoffs for the second year in a row, 3-0, the team dispatched both teams that finished higher than them in the conference. The top-seeded ASC San Diego, who had fallen to OCFC in both their regular season meetings, lost again in the regional quarterfinals, 3-1, before the No. 2 seeded FC Golden State was beaten by a second half scoring surge, 4-2. OCFC’s playoff run came to an end in the Regional Final against FC Mulhouse Portland, 6-4, in the highest scoring game of the national playoffs.
9. Laredo Heat (South Region – Lone Star Conference, 3.0 points per game)
Number of US Open Cup appearances: 5 (2006, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 … as as member of USL League Two, formerly PDL)
Best Open Cup finish: 2014 Fourth Round (1-0 loss at Houston Dynamo of MLS)
Notable Win: 3-2 win at Fort Lauderdale Strikers (NASL) in 2014 Third Round
After leaving USL League Two (formerly the PDL) and taking a two-year hiatus from play, the Laredo Heat returned as a member of the NPSL in 2018. The team didn’t take long to adjust, winning the Lone Star Conference regular season title with a perfect 10-0-0 record, before falling in the South Regional semifinals, 2-1, to the Little Rock Rangers.
In the conference semifinals, a goal from Fort Worth Vaqueros FC in the second half was quickly matched in the 61st minute by the Heat’s Gabriel Rodriguez, who would later add the game-winner in the 80th minute en route to advancing, 3-1. The Houston Dutch Lions proved to be a formidable foe for Laredo in the conference finals, taking a 2-0 lead against the host into the second half. A late game rally with goals from Ziyad Fares and Petteri Pietola forced extra time, where the Heat would take on two more and hold off a Lions comeback for the win, 4-3.
10. FC Baltimore Christos (Northeast Region – Mid-Atlantic Conference, 2.20 points per game)
Number of US Open Cup appearances: None
Another first year participant for the NPSL that’s hoping to receive their first trip to the US Open Cup.
Baltimore’s inaugural season saw them finish atop the Mid-Atlantic Conference regular season table with a record of 7-2-1, which included the highest-scoring game in the NPSL season against Legacy 76, 13-0, at home on June 29. The team’s playoff success didn’t follow in the same fashion, however, as they fell to the conference’s No. 3 seed FC Frederick, 2-1, in the conference final. The Charm City club find themselves in the No. 10 spot thanks to the New York Cosmos B and FC Motown winning their respective conferences, meaning FC Baltimore is left as the highest non-champion team (based on points per game) remaining and was granted a wildcard spot in the Northeast Region semifinals.
Despite falling to eventual NPSL Finalist FC Motown, 3-0, in the playoffs, Baltimore’s offseason has seen the team form a partnership with US Open Cup favorite and fellow Baltimore side Christos FC which may spell bright things in the team’s future.
11. Erie Commodores FC (Midwest Region – East Conference, 2.25 points per game)
Number of US Open Cup appearances: 1* (2018)
* Qualified for the 2013 US Open Cup but declined the invitation due to travel/financial reasons
Best Open Cup finish: 2018 Second Round (2-1 loss vs Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC of USL)
The Commodores have a chance to participate in back-to-back Open Cups after a successful season in the Midwest Region’s East Conference. The team won its second East Conference regular season championship in as many years with a near-unbeaten record of 8-1-3. The only game the team lost was on the road against Cleveland SC, 3-2. Even though Erie would get the win back at home later on in the season, the rubber match between the two clubs went to the Admirals as they advanced passed the Commodores, 4-0, in the Midwest Region quarterfinals.
12. Chattanooga FC (South Region – Southeast Conference, 2.00 points per game)
Number of US Open Cup appearances: 6 (2011, 2013-2017)
Best Open Cup finish: 2015 Third Round (2-1 extra time loss vs Atlanta Silverbacks of NASL)
2019 will be Chattanooga FC’s eleventh season in the NPSL and may also include the team’s seventh birth in the U.S. Open Cup. This won’t only depend on how many births the league receives.
Chattanooga is benefiting from the rule that every conference in the NPSL must be represented in the tournament. Prior to applying that rule, Chattanooga was in the 22nd spot and squarely on the “bubble”. However, once that rule is applied, then they move up to the fourth position within the south region and puts them at the No. 12 spot.
After putting up a great season in the Southeast Conference including winning the regular season title, the Tennessee side fell in the conference final the Atlanta Silverbacks FC, 6-5 in penalty kicks after playing to a scoreless draw. Despite this, Chattanooga is more likely to receive a birth than Atlanta thanks to their offensive success during the year where the team has a +14 goal differential and scored 30 times over the course of 14 games.
13. El Farolito (West Region, Golden Gate Conference, 2.29 points per game)
Number of (Modern Era) US Open Cup appearances: 1
Best Open Cup finish: 1993 US Open Cup champions (as CD Mexico)
After qualifying for the tournament in 2018 through the Open Division local qualifying, El Farolito’s jump from the San Francisco Soccer Football League to the NPSL disqualified it from taking part due to a rule stating no team can switch leagues mid-tournament. One year later, the 1993 Open Cup champions are back in the competition in its inaugural NPSL season as one of the best teams from the West Region.
The team’s undefeated regular season record, 9-0-5, clinched the Golden Gate Conference regular season title and it, along with its +20 goal differential, is why they are in position to be the only team from its conference to earn a 2019 berth.
The team’s playoff run got off to a impressive start when it defeated Sonoma County Sol, 2-0, in the West Region quarterfinals. El Farolito took the lead in the first half with a 37th minute goal, but the Sol had a chance in the second half when Faro’s Ademar Rodriguez was sent off with a red in the 67th minute. A stoppage time goal from Camilo Campo sealed the win however as the team advanced to the regional semifinals where it would lose to FC Mulhouse Portland, 2-0.
14: Philadelphia Lone Star F.C. (Northeast Region – Keystone Conference, 2.40 points per game)
Number of US Open Cup appearances: 1 (2017)
Best Open Cup Finish: 2017 First Round (3-1 loss at Ocean City Nor’easters of USL League Two)
The newly re-branded Philadelphia Lone Star FC finished 2018 not only with a new name but with a high enough points per game average to put themselves in the No. 14 spot on the qualifying tables for the 2019 US Open Cup.
It wasn’t easy for the team, which played as Junior Lone Star FC during the NPSL season, as it split its first four games in a highly competitive Keystone Conference. Strong showings like the team had against Torch FC, 7-1, or the Electric City Shock, 3-1, helped raise the team’s points per game to 2.4 and secured a second place finish in the league table.
Philadelphia’s playoff run was short lived as it fell to No. 3 seed West Chester United SC, 4-3 in penalty kicks (after a 2-2 draw), in the Keystone Conference semifinal.
15: Midland-Odessa Sockers FC (South Region – Lone Star Conference, 2.20 points per game)
Number of US Open Cup appearances: 2 (2015*, 2018)
* As member of USL League Two (formerly PDL)
Best Open Cup Finish: 2015 Second Round (3-1 loss vs Oklahoma City Energy FC of USL)
The Midland-Odessa Sockers postseason ended early during the Lone Star Conference semifinals, but a successful regular season could put the team into the 2019 edition of the US Open Cup. The team scored 30 goals en route to a second place finish in the conference table with a 7-2-1 record.
As the second seed, the Sockers advanced directly to the conference semifinals, where they fell to the Houston Dutch Lions FC, 4-3.
16: Minneapolis City SC (Midwest Region – North Conference, 2.43 points per game)
Number of US Open Cup appearances: None
Despite a highly successful regular season, Minneapolis City SC’s lack of postseason success and NPSL’s rankings based on regions leaves the team low on this list, and could be even lower depending on how many teams the NPSL gets in the 2019 US Open Cup.
The team’s undefeated season, 10-0-4, the only one in the entire Midwest Region, helped earn it the North Conference regular season championship. A stellar offense was to thank for this on-field success as the Crows were the most proficient scoring team in the entire NPSL with 46 goals scored and averaging 2.4 points per game. Despite being a strong home side with a record of 6–0–1 at Augsburg University, the first seed in the Midwest Region fell in its first playoff match there to the No. 5 seed Duluth FC, 2-1. The Crows were able to come back from an early deficit, but a penalty inside their own box during the 115th minute gave Duluth a penalty kick, which Ricardo Ramos would score on route to advancement.
Minneapolis City are best known for being disqualified from the 2017 Open Division Local qualifying tournament when they violated tournament rules by switching leagues (from the Premier League of America to the NPSL) in the middle of the qualifying process. The club is still seeking its first US Open Cup berth.
17. Brooklyn Italians (Northeast Region – North Atlantic Conference, 2.20 points per game)
Number of (Modern Era) US Open Cup appearances: 7 (2010-2015, 2018)
Best Finish: 1979*, 1991 US Open Cup Champions
* Under the name Brooklyn Dodgers
A staple in the US Open Cup in recent years, the two-time US Open Cup champion Brooklyn Italians are seeking to qualify for the tournament for the second year in a row and the eighth time in the last 10 years. They put themselves in pretty good position after a 7-2-1 regular season record and an appearance in the North Atlantic Conference final.
In an already stacked conference, the fact that the side’s only loses came against the undefeated New York Cosmos B and No. 3 seed Hartford City FC showed the team could be a viable threat come playoff time. The Italians even avenged its regular season loss against Hartford in the conference semifinals, 3-0, the same score the Colts had run up against Brooklyn earlier in the season, before narrowly falling to Cosmos B in the final in penalty kicks, 5-3 (after a 1-1 draw)
Brooklyn has won the national tournament twice (1979 and 1991) since the team’s inception in 1949 and remain one of the most well-known and successful sides in American amateur soccer.
18: ASC San Diego (West Region – Southwest Conference, 2.33 points per game)
Number of US Open Cup appearances: 1 (2017 … as Albion SC Pros)
Best Open Cup Finish: 2017 First Round (3-2 loss vs Chula Vista FC of the USASA)
In a city where soccer has become a hot topic, ASC San Diego is a conference champion with a possible future in the US Open Cup. The team enjoyed a productive season sitting atop the final Southwest Conference standings table with a record of 9-2-1. The only loss came from Orange County FC, who finished the season sweep by knocking off the Southwest Region’s top seed in the regional quarterfinals, 3-1.
San Diego is also the final member of this list to be included in the upcoming NPSL Founder’s Cup.
19: FC Wichita (South Region – Heartland Conference, 2.20 points per game)
Number of US Open Cup appearances: 3 (2016-2018)
Best Finish: 2018 Third Round (3-2 loss at NTX Rayados)
Notable Win: 4-3 at Tulsa Roughnecks FC (USL) in 2018 Second Round
FC Wichita could be Open Cup bound for the fourth time in as many years after narrowly winning the Heartland Conference regular season title with a record of 7-2-1. However, with the Open Division Local team entries being reduced from 13 to eight, this could be considered “the bubble” portion of the list, assuming the NPSL and USL League Two will also see reductions in the number of entries.
Last year saw the team make NPSL history by defeating the Tulsa Roughnecks of the USL to advance to the Third Round. This marked the second time since 2003 that an amateur team from the NPSL eliminated a pro team in the tournament.
This year, the team started with a seven-game winning streak that set it up as the top team in the conference. However, losses to Saint Louis Club Atletico and Little Rock Rangers put the team’s top seed hopes in jeopardy. A 1-1 draw against Demize NPSL (who finished near the bottom of the table) on the last day won the conference by a single point for the team’s second consecutive regular season championship. A revenge rout of Saint Louis, 4-0, in the semifinals of the conference playoffs gave the team another rematch against Little Rock who once again came away with the narrow win, 5-3 in penalty kicks (after a 0-0 draw).
Despite having the same points per game (2.2) and record as fellow South Region competitor Midland-Odessa Sockers FC, Wichita ranks lower due losing the tiebreaker on average goal difference per game, 2.2 to 1.3.
20. Cleveland SC (Midwest Region – East Conference, 2.00 points per game)
Number of US Open Cup appearances: None
Cleveland SC is another first year club for this list whose inaugural season may have been good enough to see it into the competition.
From the ashes of former NPSL club AFC Cleveland (which qualified for the US Open Cup in 2016 and 2017), Cleveland FC finished second in the East with a record of 7-2-3 to take the conference’s final spot in the Midwest Region playoffs. As the fourth seed, the team kicked off the postseason against the third seed Erie Commodores FC in the regional quarterfinals. In what some may consider an upset, Cleveland took the lead against the hosts early with a goal from Vincent Bell in the 7th minute and never looked back. Bell would score two more on route to a hat trick and two Commodore players would be sent off after earning double yellow cards as the newcomers advanced, 4-0.
The team’s playoff run ended in the semifinals against AFC Ann Arbor, 1-0, but the team’s cup chances are helped due to a high-producing offense – including a regular season sweep against Greater Binghamton FC Thunder where the team outscored its opponent 21-0, the highest total for any home/away regular season series this year.
21. West Chester United SC (Northeast Region – Keystone Conference, 2.10 points per game)
22. Houston Dutch Lions (South Region – Long Star Conference, 2.10 points per game)
23. FC Golden State (West Region – Southwest Conference, 2.20 points per game)
24. Grand Rapids FC (Midwest Region – Great Lakes Conference, 1.90 points per game)