More pros, less amateurs, an extra sub in 2019 US Open Cup format

Posted by | January 31, 2019
The Houston Dynamo celebrate the 2018 US Open Cup championship. Photo: Jose Castellanos | Twitter: @Vos_Castellanos, IG: @FutbolAndBrews

The Houston Dynamo celebrate the 2018 US Open Cup championship. Photo: Jose Castellanos | Twitter: @Vos_Castellanos, IG: @FutbolAndBrews

UPDATED: Chattanooga releases a statement regarding their decision to withdraw from the 2019 US Open Cup

The New Year brings about a renewed interest in the 2019 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) has recently announced the pairings for the fourth round of local qualifying and the schedule and competition format which includes a Modern Era (1995-present) record number of professional teams (52).

The 106th edition of the tournament is set to kick off on May 7, and will feature both open division clubs (14 NPSL, 10 USL League Two, 8 Open Division Local) and professional teams from Major League Soccer (Division 1), USL Championship (Division 2), and USL League One (Division 3). This will be the first time since 2016 that a third division league will take part in the competition.

The First Round of the competition will have all 32 open division clubs and the six USL League One clubs squaring off. The 19 winners will advance to the Second Round, where they will be joined by the 25 USL Championship clubs before the 21 Major League Soccer teams, including last year’s champion Houston Dynamo, enter in the Fourth Round.

The draw for the First Round of the tournament is scheduled to take place on April 10.

As with nearly every edition of the tournament, the handbook has detailed new additions and revisions that have been included for 2019. A copy of the 2019 edition of the Open Cup Handbook can be found and downloaded here.

Here are some of the highlights:

Prize Money

After increasing the prize totals for last year’s event, the USSF has decided to keep those numbers for the 2019 iteration of the tournament. The champion will receive $300,000, the runner-up will get $100,000, and the team that advances the furthest from each division wins $25,000 each. In total, there is $475,000 in prize money up for grabs this year for five teams to earn a cut of. The winner will also receive a berth into the 2020 CONCACAF Champions League.

First Round Pairings

Provisions that required teams to play opponents that qualified from a different league or pool have been altered in order to lessen the potential cost of travel. These provisions may be waived if doing so lessens the cost of travel for the away team. As an example, this means a team from the NPSL does not need to face a Local Qualifier or USL League Two team if travel costs are too excessive and may be placed with another team (even a team from the NPSL) if it is closer.

Match Dates

If the Open Cup Commissioner, Paul Marstaller, finds a date change would be in the best interest of the competition, he may do so even outside the confirmed schedule dates.


Starting with the 2019 tournament, a fourth substitution is now allowed for games that reach extra time. This follows the trend set forth by other major soccer competitions such as the Summer Olympics, CONCACAF Gold Cup, and FIFA World Cup among others.

Thanks, but no thanks

After failing to qualify last year, Chattanooga FC, the only NPSL club to eliminate multiple professional teams, appeared to be on their way for qualifying for the US Open Cup for the seventh time. However, has learned that despite making the cut, based on the NPSL’s qualifying method, the club has informed the US Soccer Federation that they will not take part in the 2019 tournament. Chattanooga FC released a statement to to explain the decision to withdraw.

Record diversity

This year’s tournament features a Modern Era record 34 different states represented, including 38 different state associations. Two of the teams will make history as Birmingham Legion FC (USL Championship) from Alabama and the Little Rock Rangers (NPSL) from Arkansas are, according to historical records, the first teams from their respective states to compete in the tournament’s 106-year history.

Other notable records shows that Texas has a Modern Era record nine teams that have qualified for the 2019 US Open Cup and NTX Rayados (Dallas) and Southwest FC (El Paso) have a chance to add to that number.

The streak continues …

Reading United of USL League Two (formerly Premier Development League) have qualified for the 11th year in a row, which continues the club’s Modern Era record for an open division team. If NTX Rayados wins their final qualifying game against FC Maritsa (St. Louis), they will have qualified for the 8th year in a row, which is the longest streak of any open division local team (open division local teams are any open division team that is not part of a national league, such as USL League Two or the NPSL).

2019 US Open Cup entries

Major League Soccer (Div. 1 professional – 21 teams)
Atlanta United FC, Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids, Columbus Crew SC, D.C. United, FC Cincinnati, 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

USL Championship (Div. 2 professional – 25 teams)
Austin Bold FC, Birmingham Legion FC, Charleston Battery, Charlotte Independence, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, El Paso Locomotive FC, Fresno FC, Hartford Athletic, Indy Eleven, Las Vegas Lights FC, Louisville City FC, Memphis 901 FC, Nashville SC, New Mexico United, North Carolina FC, Oklahoma City Energy FC, Orange County SC, Phoenix Rising FC, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Reno 1868 FC, Sacramento Republic FC, Saint Louis FC, San Antonio FC, Tampa Bay Rowdies, Tulsa Roughnecks FC

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

USL League One (Div. 3 professional – 6 teams)
Chattanooga Red Wolves SC, Forward Madison FC, Greenville Triumph SC, Lansing Ignite FC, Richmond Kickers, South Georgia Tormenta FC

All US-Based USL Championship teams automatically qualify for the US Open Cup

USL League Two (Div. 4 amateur – Open Division National – 10 teams)
Black Rock FC, Brazos Valley Cavalry F.C., Dayton Dutch Lions, Des Moines Menace, FC Golden State Force, Lakeland Tropics, New York Red Bulls U-23, Reading United AC, The Villages SC,  Tormenta FC 21

1: Played under the name South Georgia Tormenta FC in 2018.

USL League Two determines their US Open Cup entries based on 2018 league results (which were under the league’s previous name – the Premier Development League) (DETAILS)
Note: This article has not been updated in regards to teams folding or switching leagues

National Premier Soccer League (Div. 4 amateur – Open Division National – 14 teams)
AFC Ann Arbor, Duluth FC, El Farolito, Erie Commodores FC, FC Baltimore Christos1, FC Motown, FC Mulhouse Portland, Midland/Odessa Sockers FC, Philadelphia Lone Star FC2, Laredo Heat, Little Rock Rangers, Miami FC3, New York Cosmos B, Orange County FC

1: Played under the name FC Baltimore in 2018
2: Played under the name Junior Lone Star FC in 2018
3: Played under the name Miami FC 2 in 2018

NPSL determines their US Open Cup entries based on 2018 league results (DETAILS)

Open Division Local Qualifiers (Div. 4 amateur – 8 teams)
Milwaukee Bavarian SC – 2018 USASA National Amateur Cup winner

The remaining seven spots will be determined in a Fourth Round of Open Cup qualifying, which will take place on April 6 and 7. The matchups are:

Safira FC (USASA) vs West Chester United Predators (USASA)
Virginia United (ANFUSA) vs World Class Premier Elite FC (USASA)
Florida Soccer Soldiers (USASA) vs America SC (USASA)
NTX Rayados (USASA) vs FC Maritsa (USASA)
Southwest FC (USASA) vs FC Denver (USSSA)
Santa Ana Winds FC (USASA) vs Cal FC (USASA)
Academica SC (USCS) vs IPS/Marathon Taverna (USASA)


Teams that play in American leagues that are based outside the United States are barred from entering the tournament. This list includes:

Calgary Foothills FC (USL-2) (Won its conference and the league in 2018)
Montreal Impact (MLS)
Ottawa Fury FC (USL-C)
Toronto FC (MLS)
Toronto FC II (USL-1) (Is also barred on the grounds that it is owned by a higher division professional club)
Vancouver Whitecaps FC (MLS)

Professional teams that are majority owned or whose player roster “is materially managed” by a higher level team are not eligible for the competition. For 2019, this includes the following teams:

Atlanta United 2 (USL-C)
Bethlehem Steel FC (USL-C)
FC Tucson (USL-1)
LA Galaxy II (USL-C)
Loudoun United FC (USL-C)
New York Red Bulls II (USL-C)
North Texas SC (USL-1)
Portland Timbers II (USL-C)
Orlando City B (USL-1)
Real Monarchs SLC (USL-C)
Rio Grande Valley FC Toros (USL-C)
Swope Park Rangers (USL-C)
Tacoma Defiance (USL-C) (Formerly Seattle Sounders 2)

Despite being a tournament regular since 2013, FC Tucson will not field a USL League Two team in 2019.

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

  1. Houston Dynamo (MLS) / Brazos Valley Cavalry F.C. (USL-2)
    2. New York Red Bulls (MLS) / New York Red Bulls U-23s (PDL)
    3. South Georgia Tormenta FC (USL-1) / Tormenta FC 2 (USL-2)

In addition, two more clubs are not allowed to face one another unless they both reach the final. According to the handbook, this is to “prevent the possibility of a team who receives material technical support from another club from playing that side.”

San Jose Earthquakes (MLS) / Reno 1868 FC (USL-C)

2019 US Open Cup dates

April 6-7: Fourth Qualifying Round
April 10: 2019 US Open Cup First Round pairings and Second Round possible matchups announced
April 17: Second Round Pairings & Possible Pairings Announced – April 17
May 7-8: First Round
May 14-15: Second Round
May 29: Third Round
May 30: Fourth Round Draw
June 12: Fourth Round
June 13: Round of 16 Draw
June 29: Round of 16 (also June 18-23 if home team chooses and visiting team has at least three non-game days on each side of chosen date, with any overlap of U.S. MNT Gold Cup games on June 18 and June 22 disallowed)
July 10: Quarterfinals
July 11: Draw to determine hosts for Semifinals & Final
Aug. 7: Semifinals
Aug. 27 or 28: Final
*Dates subject to change

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.


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