Graphic by Daniel Crooke
The 2020 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, the United States’ national soccer championship, has been cancelled for the first time since its inception in 1913. The tournament, which was scheduled to kick off in March with a Modern Era record 100 clubs, will not be played due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The pandemic, at the time of the announcement, has killed more than 170,000 Americans.
The news was originally reported by Sports Illustrated’s Brian Straus on Aug. 14, with US Soccer confirming the news on Monday. The Open Division qualification tournament for the 2021 US Open Cup has also been cancelled.
The 107th edition of the Open Cup tournament is now scheduled to take place in March 2021, with US Soccer inviting all 38 Open Division teams that qualified for the 2020 tournament. These teams will need to maintain eligibility under current Open Cup rules (e.g. remain a member in good standing with their existing league, not switch leagues, etc.) for the invitation to be extended.
U.S. Soccer also announced it will retain the entry fees and performance bonds submitted for 2020 and roll these amounts over for the 2021 tournament.
cup competitions in the world
|1. Irish Cup (est. 1881)
2. US Open Cup (est. 1913)
3. Coupe de France (est. 1918)
When the news was announced, Philadelphia-area amateur club Vereinigung Erzgebirge, one of the 12 teams that qualified via the local qualifying tournament, said in the club’s recent newsletter that they are disappointed, but they are trying to put a positive spin on the situation.
“We knew this was a possibility but it is now reality,” the newsletter read. “Let’s focus on the good news. We will be one of the clubs that meet the criteria and Vereinigung Erzgebirge will be in the 2021 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. I spoke with most of the guys last night and while we are disappointed we all agree we can capitalize on this opportunity. We have never had this much time to prepare. In 2002 when we won Region I to qualify we had 2-3 weeks to prepare. Many guys were not prepared at all. We now have six months, maybe more, to ride out the pandemic and show up ready to knock off a pro team.”
The Open Cup joins a growing number of national soccer competitions canceled due to the virus. This list includes Australia’s FFA Cup, New Zealand’s Chatham Cup, and the Netherlands’ KNVB Cup. North America’s two other national competitions, Mexico’s Copa MX and the Canadian Championship, are set to hold finals later this year.
Beginning in 1913 and crowning Brooklyn Field Club it’s first champions on May 16, 1914, the Open Cup, originally called the National Challenge Cup, was the world’s second-oldest continuously running national championship. Despite being the 14th oldest tournament overall behind countries such as Hungary, Spain, and England, only Northern Ireland’s 140-year-old Irish Cup had been held consistently for a longer period of time. The Irish Cup will retain the title, with the Glentoran FC lifting the trophy three weeks ago.
Throughout its 106-year history, the US Open Cup had been played through various world-changing events. The 1918-19 tournament battled through delays and withdrawals due to the on-going Spanish Influenza outbreak. As both World Wars were fought across the oceans, forcing forfeits at home while canceling national tournaments abroad, the United States crowned a total of 10 national champions without fail during war times.
The 2020 tournament was not without its own share of hurdles prior to the cancellation. US Soccer’s decision to move the First Round start date into late March posed issues for Open Division sides that relied on college talent. Due to NCAA eligibility rules, players would be unable to compete in the tournament until May 1, or after the completion of the Third Round (a round that only 17 amateur teams in the Modern Era have survived). This change pushed teams such as USL League Two’s Reading United AC, the record holder for the most consecutive Modern Era qualifications for an Open Division team, and Flint City Bucks, the 2020 league champions, to both withdraw from the competition despite both being in line for a spot. The National Premier Soccer League’s Midland-Odessa Sockers FC also declined its invitation to the tournament for this reason.
Following the initial pause in sports during March 2020, many of the leagues that take part in the tournament began formulating plans on how to handle the rest of the year. The suspension of both the Major League Soccer and USL Championship (Div. 2) seasons, along with the postponement of the USL League One (Div. 3) season, put increased pressure on all three leagues to complete their regular seasons in a shrinking window. The additional cancellation of the now fully-sanctioned National Independent Soccer Association’s Spring season, as well as the seasons for both recognized National Leagues (NPSL & USL-2), put additional hurdles forward.
The Athletic’s Jeff Reuter reported in mid-March that USL informed US Soccer that it intended to pull all 31 of its member teams out of the competition.
The now canceled edition was set to be the first with two leagues from the same professional level of US Soccer since 2017, with both third division USL League One and the National Independent Soccer Association set to enter in the Second Round. It was also set to be the first time since 2012 that Major League Soccer, the United States’ highest sanctioned league, would have teams enter prior to the Fourth Round — with half of its teams entering in the Third Round based on last year’s league results.