The US Soccer Federation announced on Monday that the 2021 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup will not include an opening round. Initially announced as a 24-team affair, the 107th edition of the tournament will now only have 16 entrants from across all four divisions of US Soccer.
The federation previously announced March 29 as the date where the committee would announce the Opening Round’s status.
In a similar vein to the historic cancelation of the 2020 tournament and the initial plans to abbreviate the 2021 edition, these changes are directly due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. U.S. Soccer’s Open Cup Committee met last week and cited travel concerns and the fact that multiple professional and amateur divisions and leagues will be competing as a basis to eliminate the First Round.
With the elimination of the First Round, three of the four divisions have had their team entrant slots cut in half. Division 2 (USL Championship) will have four teams compete while the two Division 3 leagues (National Independent Soccer Association & USL League One) will have one team each.
The biggest changes to the format happen at each end of the tier spectrum.
Division I (Major League Soccer) will still retain its eight spots as it was originally allocated for the 2021 tournament. These berths will be awarded to the top eight US-based teams through regular season play based on average standings points per game as of May 3, which is three weeks into the season and should account for three games. This will be the first time MLS has used regular season play as a US Open Cup qualifier since 2002. (This was first reported by Sam Stejskal and Jeff Rueter of The Athletic)
The two Open Division teams will be decided on April 7 through multiple random draws. The field of 37 eligible teams will be cut down to four as the committee randomly draws one representative from both national leagues (National Premier Soccer League and USL League Two) and the group of local qualifiers. The 2019 USASA Amateur Cup champion, Newtown Pride FC, is automatically moved to the final draw of four teams.
As it stands, Newtown has the best chance of reaching the tournament with a 50% chance of being drawn. After both draws, NPSL teams only have 3.8% chance each of qualifying while USL2 teams (with only 10 eligible teams) fare slightly better with 5% chance each. A local qualifier meanwhile has a 4.2% chance of being drawn.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for our club, but it’s bittersweet with the amateur teams being cut down to just two,” said Newtown Pride general manager Matt Svanda. “For amateur teams like us, this tournament means everything, and we feel like we earned our spot by winning the Amateur Cup. It’s a shame that fewer teams will have the chance to be a Cinderella story.”
Denton Diables FC, a Denton, Texas based NPSL side who originally qualified for the 2020 tournament via their inaugural 2019 league results, has let their disappointment be known on social media. Diablos co-founder Damon Gochneaur told TheCup.us that he lamented that it feels like the chance to compete was being taken from his group.
“We are deeply saddened by the Open Cup Committee’s decision. To say we’re disappointed would be a gross misrepresentation. We’re gutted and scorned, and will have a proper response in due time. We earned our right it was seemingly stolen from us by the very entity meant to protect that right. Put an asterisk next to this year, because it’s not an Open Cup, it’s a Closed Cup. But this isn’t at all surprising, we began working on our plans for 2022 qualification long ago, and this changes them none.”
Following this draw, the Round of 16 will be confirmed on April 19. Similar to the March 29 announcement, the tournament committee will meet prior to determine if the competition can be played. If not, the 107th edition of the US Open Cup will once again be canceled. If not, the draw will take place on May 4, one day after the eight MLS teams are confirmed, and the first games will kick off on Tuesday, May 18 and Wednesday, May 19.
The teams will be pooled together geographically and the Round of 16 will have each MLS team face a lower division side. The last time MLS entered the tournament and did not have at least one MLS vs MLS matchup was 2014. The May 4 draw will also determine home teams for both the Round of 16 and Quarterfinals, while also setting a bracket for the remainder of the tournament.
If the 2021 US Open Cup is played with 16 teams it will match the 1995 and 1996 tournaments as one of the smallest fields in history. Factoring in the lack of qualifying games, 2021 would, by far, be the fewest number of tournament entries.
As of now, six of the participating teams are known:
USL Championship (4):
- El Paso Locomotive FC
- Louisville City FC
- Phoenix Rising FC (2020 USL-C Western Conference Champion)
- Tampa Bay Rowdies (2020 USL-C Eastern Conference Champion)
First reported by Jeff Rueter of The Athletic, with the four teams left out being the Charlotte Independence, Hartford Athletic, San Antonio FC, and Sacramento Republic (who took the place of the recently folded Reno 1868 FC)
National Independent Soccer Association (1):
- Detroit City FC (2020 NISA Fall Champion)
USL League One (1):
- Greenville Triumph SC (2020 USLL1 Regular Season/League Champion)
The still eligible teams that have not been determined are:
Major League Soccer (8):
Atlanta United FC (reigning Lamar Hunt US Open Cup champion), Austin FC, Chicago Fire FC, Colorado Rapids, Columbus Crew SC, D.C. United, FC Cincinnati, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo FC, Inter Miami CF, Los Angeles Football Club, LA Galaxy, Minnesota United FC, Nashville SC, 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
Open Division (2)
Cal FC (Calif.), Christos FC (Md.), Chula Vista FC (Calif.), Harpos FC* (Colo.), Louisiana Krewe FC (La.), Miami United FC (Fla.), Nashville United (Tenn.), New York Pancyprian Freedoms (N.Y.), NTX Rayados (Texas), Olympic Club (Calif.), Vereinigung Erzgebirge (Pa.), Virginia United (Va.)
* Known in 2020 as FC Boulder Harpos
2019 U.S. Adult Soccer Association National Amateur Cup champion:
Newtown Pride FC (Conn.)
National Premier Soccer League:
ASC San Diego, Atlantic City FC, Cleveland SC, Denton Diablos FC, FC Arizona, FC Davis, FC Motown, Fort Worth Vaqueros, Med City FC, Minneapolis City SC, Naples United FC, Tulsa Athletic, West Chester United SC
USL League Two:
Chicago FC United, Corpus Christi FC, Des Moines Menace, FC Golden State Force, North Carolina Fusion U23, South Carolina United Bantams, South Georgia Tormenta FC 2, The Villages SC, Ventura County Fusion, Western Mass Pioneers
Updated 2021 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Competition Schedule
April 7: Draw held to determine the two Open Division participants into Round of 16
April 19: Date for confirming Round of 16 (if conditions for holding the Round of 16 cannot be met, the tournament will be canceled)
May 3: Date for determining MLS participants into Round of 16
May 4: Round of 16/Quarterfinal Draw
May 18-19: Round of 16 (8 D-I teams vs. 4 D-2 , 2 D-3 , 2 Open Division teams)
May 25-26: Quarterfinal Round
June 15-16: Semifinal Round
June 29 or 30: 2021 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup Final