2020 US Open Cup Projections: Possible format and who could play in 107th tournament this Spring

Posted by | December 4, 2019
Atlanta United FC broke the all-time US Open Cup Final attendance record with a crowd of 35,709 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the 2019 Final. Photo: Allison Andrews

Atlanta United FC broke the all-time US Open Cup Final attendance record with a crowd of 35,709 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the 2019 Final. Photo: Allison Andrews

With qualifying finished for the 2020 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, we now know the 13 Open Division Local teams that will participate in next year’s tournament. That’s only a small part of the field though. So how will the rest of the tournament shape out?

This article will try and project how the 107th edition of the US Open Cup could be formatted next year, indicating how many teams will participate from each professional league as well as how many teams will participate from the Open Division National Leagues (NPSL, USL League Two).

Please, keep in mind this is completely unofficial and is still subject to change until January 9. These projections are also only accurate with the information currently available and are subject to change if teams are added to pro leagues, or if other teams fold or decline to enter.

The final deadline for professional teams to enter is Dec. 31, 2019, so it’s coming up soon. US Soccer will finalize the format and allocation of slots on Jan. 9, 2020.

 

Darwin Quintero of Minnesota United FC dribbles against the Portland Timbers in the Semifinals of the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Minnesota United FC

Darwin Quintero of Minnesota United FC dribbles against the Portland Timbers in the Semifinals of the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Minnesota United FC

Part I: Professional Teams

Let’s start with the professional leagues. All professional leagues will enter the 2020 competition at various points. It’s important to remember that:

  • Teams that are reserve sides of higher division teams are ineligible
  • Teams where a higher division team directly controls the roster are ineligible
  • Teams with just an affiliation agreement or only receive technical support from a higher division team are still eligible

Let’s go through the leagues one by one, starting from the highest division and list the teams entering the Open Cup.

Division I, Major League Soccer (MLS): 23 teams

  • Atlanta United
  • Chicago Fire
  • Colorado Rapids
  • Columbus Crew
  • D.C. United
  • FC Dallas
  • FC Cincinnati
  • Houston Dynamo
  • Inter Miami
  • LA Galaxy
  • Los Angeles FC
  • Minnesota United
  • Nashville SC
  • New England Revolution
  • New York City FC
  • New York Red Bulls
  • Orlando City
  • Philadelphia Union
  • Portland Timbers
  • Real Salt Lake
  • San Jose Earthquakes
  • Seattle Sounders FC
  • Sporting Kansas City

Ineligible teams: 3

  • Montreal Impact (Canada based)
  • Toronto FC (Canada based)
  • Vancouver Whitecaps (Canada based)

Easy enough to list. Every single US-based team in MLS is eligible and participating. The two expansion teams in Inter Miami and Nashville SC have been active participants going into their first season and have been allocated to the Eastern and Western Conferences respectively. That’s all very, very strong evidence that they will be kicking off in 2020.

Sam Fink of Saint Louis FC celebrates with the fans after defeating FC Cincinnati 1-0 in the Fifth Round of the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Will Bramlett

Sam Fink of Saint Louis FC celebrates with the fans after defeating FC Cincinnati 1-0 in the Fifth Round of the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Will Bramlett

Division II, USL Championship (USLC): 25 teams

  • Austin Bold
  • Birmingham Legion
  • Charleston Battery
  • Charlotte Independence
  • Colorado Springs Switchbacks
  • El Paso Locomotive
  • FC Tulsa
  • Hartford Athletic
  • Indy Eleven
  • Las Vegas Lights
  • Louisville City
  • Memphis 901 FC
  • Miami FC
  • New Mexico United
  • North Carolina FC
  • Oklahoma City Energy FC
  • Orange County SC
  • Phoenix Rising
  • Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
  • Reno 1868
  • Sacramento Republic FC
  • Saint Louis FC
  • San Antonio FC
  • San Diego Loyal
  • Tampa Bay Rowdies

Ineligible teams: 10

  • Atlanta United 2 (reserve team of Atlanta United)
  • Bethlehem Steel (reserve team of Philadelphia Union)
  • LA Galaxy II (reserve team of LA Galaxy)
  • Loudoun United (reserve team of D.C. United)
  • New York Red Bulls II (reserve team of New York Red Bulls)
  • Portland Timbers 2 (reserve team of Portland Timbers)
  • Real Monarchs (reserve team of Real Salt Lake)
  • Rio Grade Valley FC (roster directly controlled by Houston Dynamo)
  • Sporting Kansas City II (reserve team of Sporting Kansas City)
  • Tacoma Defiance (reserve team of Seattle Sounders)

As of now, only Fresno FC is confirmed as folding from the league. Nashville SC has moved up to MLS. The only confirmed addition to the league is San Diego Loyal. Any recent news about USL Championship expansion has been slated for at least 2021.

UPDATE (12/12/19): Miami FC has made a surprising switch from NISA to USL Championship in time for the 2020 season after buying the Ottawa Fury’s franchise rights. As long as their Open Cup team information form is updated by the end of 2019 and they get a schedule by the end of January 2020 for USL Championship, they will be participating in the 2020 Open Cup as a USL Championship team.

Players from Forward Madison (right) and Bavarian SC race to the ball in Tuesday's First Round match in the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Forward Madison

Players from Forward Madison (right) and Bavarian SC race to the ball in their First Round match in the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Forward Madison

Division III, USL League One (USL1): 6 teams

  • Chattanooga Red Wolves
  • Forward Madison
  • Greenville Triumph
  • Richmond Kickers
  • South Georgia Tormenta
  • Union Omaha

Ineligible teams: 6

  • Inter Miami USL (reserve team of Inter Miami)
  • Revolution II (reserve team of New England Revolution)
  • North Texas SC (reserve team of FC Dallas)
  • Orlando City B (reserve team of Orlando City)
  • Toronto FC II (Canada based and reserve team of Toronto FC)
  • FC Tuscon (reserve team of Phoenix Rising)

This is where projections have to be made. So far the only confirmed folded team from USL League One is Lansing Ignite.

Union Omaha has been very active as an upcoming expansion team, has a stadium for the upcoming season, and a head coach hired. That is very strong evidence they will kick off in 2020. Other expansion teams for 2020 in Inter Miami’s reserve teams and Revolution II are just that, reserve teams, and wouldn’t be eligible for Open Cup participation anyways.

UPDATE (12/12/19): The Athletic’s Jeff Reuter is reporting that Penn FC has no employees and is effectively folded. They have been removed off this list entirely.

Detroit City FC fans celebrate a PK shootout win over the Michigan Bucks in the 2018 US Open Cup. Photo: Jon DeBoer | DCFC

Detroit City FC fans celebrate a PK shootout win over the Michigan Bucks in the 2018 US Open Cup. Photo: Jon DeBoer | DCFC

Division III, National Independent Soccer Association (NISA): 9 teams

  • Atlanta SC
  • California United Strikers
  • Chattanooga FC
  • Detroit City
  • Los Angeles Force
  • Michigan Stars
  • Oakland Roots
  • San Diego 1904
  • Stumptown Athletic

Ineligible teams: 1

  • New York Cosmos (will not have played a game in the league by the time the Open Cup starts, participating in Fall 2020)

UPDATE (12/12/19): The following has been updated to reflect the latest news about NISA:

We’ll have to do more projections again. NISA has been in a state of flux since it’s beginning, so let’s break it down team by team. Atlanta SC will remain on the list until there is strong evidence to support that they will be folding or going on hiatus. The club has been active on social media and just recently had tryouts for the upcoming Spring season. If Atlanta SC does fold, it will result in 2 more Open Division teams participating in the First Round. (see the next section)

NISA Connecticut, NISA Providence, and Philadelphia Fury have all been officially confirmed as not participating in the Spring 2020 season.

Miami FC has made a surprsing switch to USL Championship and will participate in Open Cup as a USL Championship team instead for the 2020 Open Cup.

Expansion teams moving from the NPSL Members Cup (Chattanooga FC, Detroit City, and Michigan Stars) have stadiums, coaches, and been recently playing soccer. All strong evidence they will kick off as professional teams in 2020. They were all confirmed by US Soccer as Spring 2020 participants at the Board of Directors meeting on Dec. 6-7, 2019.

Although the New York Cosmos will play in NISA in 2020, it will not be until the Fall 2020 season. By Open Cup rules, your first league game must be at least 7 days prior to the round your league enters the competition. New York Cosmos cannot participate as a NISA team, however, could still retain a team in the NPSL and claim their spot in the competition that way, as they finished as runner-up in last summer’s season.

To summarize:

  • Division I (MLS): 23 teams
  • Division II (USLC): 25 teams
  • Division III (USL1): 6 teams
  • Division III (NISA): 9 teams
Atlanta United FC celebrates their 2019 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup championship. Photo: Allison Andrews

Atlanta United FC celebrates their 2019 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup championship. Photo: Allison Andrews

Part II: Possible Tournament Format

UPDATE (12/12/19): With the announcement of the rescheduled competition format by US Soccer and the schedule, this entire section has been updated to reflect that.

With that information out of the way, the next step is formatting the competition and where the 63 professional teams will enter and filling up the remaining slots with Open Division teams. Based on the schedule provided by US Soccer, this is how the tournament should be formatted

Likely Format: 11 MLS teams move back into Round 3

In this option, 12 MLS teams will remain in Round 4 (also called the Round of 32.) and the remaining 11 MLS teams will enter in Round 3. Based on that known info, this is how the 8 rounds of the tournament will be formatted.

  • Round 1: 36 Open Division teams enter, 36 teams total
  • Round 2: 25 USLC teams, 6 USL1 teams, and 9 NISA teams enter and 18 winners of Round 1 participate, 58 teams total
  • Round 3: 11 MLS teams enter and 29 winners of Round 2 participate, 40 teams total
  • Round 4: 12 remaining MLS teams enter and 20 winners of Round 3 participate, 32 teams total
  • Round of 16: 16 winners of Round 4 face off, 16 teams total
  • Quarterfinals: 8 winners of Round of 16 face off, 8 teams total
  • Semifinals: 4 winners of Quarterfinals face off, 4 teams total
  • Final: 2 winners of Semifinals face off, 2 teams total

The 12 MLS teams that will enter in Round 4 are the four 2020 CONCACAF Champions League participants (Atlanta United, Los Angeles FC, New York City FC, and Seattle Sounders) plus the next four best teams from the Eastern Conference based on the 2019 standings (Philadelphia Union, D.C. United, New York Red Bulls, and New England Revolution) plus the next four best teams from the Western Conference (Real Salt Lake, Minnesota United, LA Galaxy, and Portland Timbers)

The remaining 11 MLS teams (Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids, Columbus Crew, FC Cincinnati, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, Inter Miami CF, Nashville SC, Orlando City, San Jose Earthquakes, Sporting Kansas City) will enter in Round 3.

A positive of this is while there is technically for a maximum of 11 MLS vs. MLS matches in Round 4, 11 of those teams had to go through a lower division team to even have that happen. If all 11 MLS teams advanced from Round 3, there would be a minumum of 7 MLS vs. MLS matches. With each upset in Round 3 though, that minimum decreases, providing even more MLS vs. Everyone else matches that are much more popular. There also won’t be any USLC vs. USLC matches in Round 2 since there are fewer than half of the 58 teams in that round from USLC. Half of MLS teams still would only have to win 5 matches to get the championship, but the other half would have to win 6 matches to win the cup for the first time in the Modern Era.

Other positives is that all professional teams get at least a one round bye as has been the norm since full MLS participation was required in 2012. 2013 and 2019 are the only years that any professional teams participated in Round 1 since 2012.

If Atlanta SC does fold from NISA, what will result is two more Open Division teams in Round 1, with the winner between them replacing Atlanta SC in Round 2. 38 Open Division teams total in that scenario.

 

Orange County FC celebrate in the locker room after the club's 5-3 upset win over Las Vegas Lights FC in the Third Round of the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Orange County FC

Orange County FC celebrate in the locker room after the club’s 5-3 upset win over Las Vegas Lights FC in the Third Round of the 2019 US Open Cup. Photo: Orange County FC

Part III: National League (NPSL & USL2) Spot Allocation

UPDATE (12/12/19): With the announcement of the rescheduled competition format by US Soccer and the schedule, this entire section has been updated to reflect that.

The next step is determining how the 36 or 38 Open Division teams will be allocated. We know that 13 teams will be allocated to the Local Qualifiers. The 12 winners of the third round of qualifying plus the USASA Amateur Cup champion.
*See our recap article from the third round of qualifying here.

Local Qualifiers, 13 teams:

  • Newtown Pride SC
  • Chula Vista FC
  • Miami United FC U23
  • Nashville United
  • Louisiana Krewe FC
  • NTX Rayados
  • Olympic Club
  • Cal FC
  • New York Pancyprian Freedoms
  • Vereinigung Erzebirge
  • FC Boulder Harpos
  • Virginia United FC
  • Christos FC

That leaves 23 or 25 spots remaining for the two national leagues, NPSL and USL League Two. Their spots are determined based on the number of eligible teams in each league that participated in the 2019 season. 67 USA based teams participated in USL League Two’s 2019 season (5 teams in USL League Two are based in Canada). 86 eligible teams participated in the NPSL’s 2019 summer season (see our article about the NPSL Mid-Atlantic Conference being ineligible for playing too few games in their season). There are 153 eligible teams total combined.

This means that Roughly 56.21% of the remaining spots go to NPSL (86 divided by 153) and 43.79% of the remaining spots go to USL League Two (67 divided by 153)

If there are 23 spots leftover in the case Atlanta SC does participate:

23 times 56.21% = 12.92 spots for NPSL rounded up to 13

23 times 43.79% = 10.07 spots for USL2 rounded down to 10

If there are 25 remaining spots leftover, in the case Atlanta SC does not participate:

25 times 56.21% = 14.05 spots for NPSL rounded down to 14

25 times 43.79% = 10.94 spots for USL2 rounded up to 11

In summary, if 36 Open Division slots are available:

  • 13 for Local Qualifiers
  • 13 for NPSL
  • 10 for USL2

If 38 Open Division slots are available:

  • 13 for Local Qualifiers
  • 14 for NPSL
  • 11 for USL2

As of right now, here are the teams from NPSL that would participate in the 2020 Open Cup (based on the 14 teams scenario, in the 13 teams scenario the bottom team would not make it in)

  • Miami FC
  • New York Cosmos B
  • ASC San Diego
  • Cleveland SC
  • Tulsa Athletic
  • FC Arizona
  • Detroit City FC
  • FC Motown or Atlantic City FC
  • Midland-Odessa Sockers
  • FC Davis
  • Minneapolis City SC
  • Chattanooga FC
  • Brooklyn Italians
  • Crossfire Redmond

Keep in mind a couple things with the above list. First, those teams have to continue to have a NPSL team in 2020 to keep that spot. This could be a reserve team or a first team, it doesn’t matter. Just any team from that organization. Second,The Open Cup first round is scheduled for March 24-25, 2020. This is well before college players finish their spring semesters and leave school to participate in clubs. If a team cannot make a roster without the use of college players, they will not participate in the Open Cup.

To see a full list of NPSL teams that could make the cup, see the article here. The clubs below 14th could still make the cut if teams above them don’t take a spot. However, it is still undetermined how teams that decline their spots will be replaced, either by the next team on the list or the next best team from the region which would keep the correct number of spots per region the NPSL delegated.

Players from the Des Moines Menace (right) and Duluth FC battle for the ball during their 2019 US Open Cup First Round match. Photo: Des Moines Menace

As of right now here are the teams from USL League Two that would participate in the 2020 Open Cup (based on the 11 teams scenario. In the 10 teams scenario, the bottom team on this list will not make it)

  • Des Moines Menace
  • Western Mass Pioneers
  • FC Golden State Force
  • Brazos Valley Cavalry
  • Reading United AC
  • Colorado Pride Switchbacks U23
  • South Georgia Tormenta FC 2
  • The Villages SC
  • Chicago FC United
  • North Carolina Fusion U23
  • GPS Portland Phoenix

It is the same deal with these teams as the NPSL teams. First, these teams have to continue to have an USL League Two team in 2020 to keep that spot. Second, if the teams rely on college players too much and can’t form a roster by March 24, 2020, then they won’t participate in the cup.

To see a full list of USL League Two teams that could make the cup, see the article here. The clubs below 11th could still make the cut if the teams above them don’t take a spot.

These are just projections for the 2020 Open Cup. They could change and if they do, this article will be updated with the latest numbers until official word from US Soccer is made in January 2020.

4 Comments

  • Many says:

    What about UPSL get reconized as a national league under usasa. How many spots they will get.

    • Jake Sillick says:

      USASA National League is not the same thing as an Open Division National League from US Soccer. The Open Cup committee set standards to determine National Leagues in their own way. One of those standards is to apply and meet the above criteria for 3 full years. We learned recently that UPSL only applied during this past Fall 2019 season. They cannot receive first round spots like NPSL and USL League Two until the 2023 Open Cup at the earliest.

  • M.O. says:

    The FA Cup style is what I want to see. Even better if US Soccer makes it so that the MLS sides are guaranteed to be on the road for that first game. It makes it so that the lower tier teams don’t have to worry about travel costs, and gives their fans a chance to see some of the players that they might like from the MLS.

    After that it should be a static bracket, so that fans of any given team can look forward to seeing who their side would potentially face next if they advance.

  • Steve Jacks says:

    While I know that USL-L2 uses regular season results instead of playoff results for their bids, it would be weird if the league champion Flint City Bucks get left out. My hope is that USSF somehow sees fit to squeeze them in.

    Also, I’m sure that USSF worked closely with NPSL and USL-L2 on the schedule change, since those leagues do depend heavily on college players.

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