2021 US Open Cup officially canceled, largest Modern Era field possible for 2022

Posted by | July 21, 2021

Graphic by Daniel Crooke

The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is set to make its return in 2022 for its 107th edition, following the cancellation the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2022 tournament is set to begin on March 22, and the Final slated to be played in mid-September. A smaller edition of the tournament was set to take place this year, but had to be called off and will not be rescheduled.

After the pandemic forced the US Open Cup to be canceled for the first time in the tournament’s history in 2020, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) had planned to run an abbreviated 24-team edition of the competition for 2021. Then, it was announced it would be reduced to 16 teams before later being postponed. On Tuesday, the USSF announced that the 2021 US Open Cup would not be rescheduled.

“After calling off the 2021 edition of the Open Cup due to the remnant effects of COVID-19, we’re excited that we can put next year’s match dates on everyone’s calendar so early,” Commissioner Paul Marstaller said in a release. “The 2022 tournament will be the first in memory when all the top players will be available for selection for every round as none of the games involving Division I Major League Soccer or Division II USL Championship clubs will be played during an international call-up period, a necessary feature for building a credible national championship.”

Prior to being canceled last year, the 2020 US Open Cup was set to include a Modern Era (1995-present) record 100 teams. The 2022 competition could exceed that total.

Based on previously announced information from the federation, the 107th edition of the tournament next year could have as many as 107 teams, according to TheCup.us calculations. Twenty-five USA based MLS teams will participate in 2022, with the expansion of Charlotte FC in addition to the 24 existing teams. Thirteen of those teams will enter the Third Round, and the remaining 12 will enter in the Round of 32, matching the number of teams that would have entered the now cancelled 2020 tournament. In the second round, 26 USL championship teams will enter, with the 24 eligible USL Championship teams joined by two expansion teams, Monterrey Bay FC Union and Queensboro FC. The first round will have a combined 56 teams enter between all Division III leagues (currently USL League One and and the National Independent Soccer Association) and the Open Division. Of course this could all change if any teams change leagues, fold, or if any expansion teams join any of the pro leagues.

According to the federation’s release, there will be a couple of changes implemented for the 2022 tournament that were expected to be put in place ahead of the 2020 Open Cup.

Half of the eligible US-based Major League Soccer (MLS) teams will enter the tournament in the Third Round, which is the earliest the tournament’s top division will have entered the cup since 2013. According to the USSF, this was done to increase “the number of matches across multiple rounds between Division I clubs and those from lower divisions (“David vs. Goliath” pairings); it also increases the opportunity (from 11 in 2019) for lower division clubs to reach the Round of 32.”

The expanded tournament calendar, which begins in March, two months earlier than in almost every Modern Era tournament, will create several changes. According to the USSF release, the expanded calendar “will allow rounds to take place at least two weeks apart, providing additional time for home teams to market and sell tickets and for visiting clubs to arrange travel earlier at lower cost. In 2019, only one week separated the First and Second Rounds, as well as the rounds of 32 and 16”

Another biproduct of the tournament’s March start is that it all but eliminates the ability for college players to participate. The majority of teams in USL League Two and the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) have rosters that rely on active college players. This schedule change and the lack of player availability prompted two of the best USL League Two teams, four-time champion Flint City Bucks and 2018 and 2019 league runner-up Reading United AC, to withdraw from the 2020 US Open Cup.

The 2022 CONCACAF Champions League berth, awarded to the 2021 US Open Cup champion, will be announced at a later date by the Board of Directors of US Soccer.

All matches will be broadcasted on ESPN+, including the Final.

Registration for amateur teams interested in competing in the Open Division Local Qualifying tournament for the 2022 US Open Cup are now open.

Here is how the competition schedule will breakdown:

Jan. 6 – Open Division berth allocation announced
Jan. 19 – First Round pairings announced
Jan. 26 – Second Round pairings and possible pairings announced
March 22-23 – First Round (Mexico-USA WCQ on March 24)
April 5-7 – Second Round
April 8 – Third Round Draw
April 19-21 – Third Round (a portion of Division I teams enter)
April 22 – Round of 32 Draw
May 10-11 – Round of 32 (remaining Division I teams enter)
May 12 – Round of 16/Quarterfinal Draw
May 24-25 – Round of 16
June 21-22 – Quarterfinals
June 23 – Semifinal/Final Hosting Draw
July 26-27 – Semifinals
Sept. 6-7 or 13-14 – 2022 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final

Tyler Fisher contributed to this report

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