When the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) announced that the opening round of the 2020 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup would begin in late March, several likely participants from the Open Division level were disappointed. By starting the 107th tournament the week of March 23-24, all current NCAA players would not be allowed to play.
This creates a significant problem for National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) and USL League Two (USL-2) teams that rely on college players to fill out their roster every year.
As a result of this change, Reading United AC (USL League Two), one of the most successful Open Division teams of the Modern Era (1995-present) announced they are declining to enter the 2020 US Open Cup.
According to a release by the team sent out on Tuesday:
“Unfortunately, the revised schedule is nothing short of damning to a large population of the US Soccer market, particularly the U-20-U23 player pool. Per NCAA data, there are over 25,000 student athletes participating in NCAA soccer. Statistically, this player age group is the strongest athlete player pool available and who have shown the greatest success in the modern history of the US Open Cup. While the path to a professional soccer career is changing in the United States, the data shows that the majority of players (over 80%) who have been drafted, or signed, by a Major League Soccer, USL Championship, or USL League One team have played for teams in USL League Two!”
The release does not mince words when it comes to the club’s opinion of the decision. It continues:
This abhorrent scheduling decision forces the top USL League Two and NPSL teams, who afford an Open Cup playing opportunity to NCAA and U23 players in the USA, to completely modify how they structure a team, or worse, forces them to relinquish their deserved spot to a lower ranked team.
The lack of consideration for such a large player pool is astonishing. We are concerned this is another example of the public perception of the “tone deafness” that exists within US Soccer. We truly do not understand why US Soccer would essentially eliminate the playing opportunity for what is truly the best soccer player pool, outside of the professional ranks, in the United States.
By withdrawing from the 2020 tournament, it bring an end to the longest qualifying streak of any Open Division team in the Modern Era. Reading has qualified for the last 11 competitions, dating back to 2009. Only one team among all of the Open Division clubs has an active streak of more than seven (NTX Rayados has qualified nine years in a row). Reading has nine US Open Cup wins all-time as a USL-2 team, and out of all of the USL-2 and NPSL teams in the Modern Era, only three (Flint City Bucks, Des Moines Menace, Ocean City Nor’easters) have more wins. (Including one PK shootout win, they have advanced 10 times, which also ranks fourth). Reading has also upset two professional teams: Harrisburg City Islanders (USL Pro) in 2013 and the New York Cosmos (NASL) in 2017.
Reading United also have a strong league resume with six division titles, 11 playoff appearances, and two championship game appearances (2018, 2019) in the last 12 seasons.
With Reading’s qualifying streak coming to an end, The Villages SC (USL-2) currently have the longest active streak among Open Division National clubs with seven. According to TheCup.us projections, they are expected to make the cut for 2020.
According to multiple sources, Reading is not the only club that is considering withdrawing from the 2020 tournament with one significant team expected to make an announcement in the coming days. Other teams have informed TheCup.us that they are also debating whether or not to decline. Stay tuned for updates.