Open Division Local Qualifying is nearly finished for the 2023 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Local Qualifying is still a small part of the field, but what about the professional teams which saw lots of change among the lower divisions over the last few months? Also, who is in line to participate from the Open Division National Leagues of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) and USL League Two (USL-2)?
This article will try and project how the 2023 edition of the US Open Cup could be formatted and which teams are participating. The final professional league deadline as outlined in the US Open Cup handbook is the end of the month (Dec. 31), so this is still unofficial projections until the full team list is announced sometime in January 2023.
UPDATE (1/31/2023): The announcements will come now in February 2023.
Part I: Professional Teams
All professional leagues will enter the 2023 competition at various points. However these teams are ineligible
- Teams that are directly owned by a higher division team
- Teams that have their roster materially controlled by a higher division team
Teams that only have an affiliation agreement or only receive technical support are still eligible. Teams that also have minority stakes are still eligible. These affiliations would only prevent them from playing each other in the competition, except in the Final.
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): 26 teams
- Atlanta United
- Austin FC
- Charlotte FC
- Chicago Fire
- Colorado Rapids
- Columbus Crew
- D.C. United
- FC Dallas
- FC Cincinnati
- Houston Dynamo
- Inter Miami CF
- 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
- St. Louis CITY SC (expansion)
Ineligible teams: 3
- Montreal Impact (Canada based)
- Toronto FC (Canada based)
- Vancouver Whitecaps (Canada based)
Every single US-based team in MLS is eligible and participating. St. Louis CITY SC ran a MLS Next Pro team in 2022, which fully indicates their inclusion in 2023.
Division II, USL Championship (USL-C): 24 teams
- Birmingham Legion
- Charleston Battery
- Colorado Springs Switchbacks
- Detroit City FC
- El Paso Locomotive
- FC Tulsa
- Hartford Athletic
- Indy Eleven
- Las Vegas Lights FC
- Loudoun United FC
- Louisville City FC
- Memphis 901 FC
- Miami FC
- Monterey Bay FC
- New Mexico United
- Oakland Roots SC
- Orange County SC
- Phoenix Rising FC
- Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
- Rio Grande Valley FC
- Sacramento Republic FC
- San Antonio FC
- San Diego Loyal
- Tampa Bay Rowdies
Planned 2023 expansion team Queensboro FC does not appear to be coming to fruition, at least not in USL Championship for 2023. OKC Energy FC was also expected to make a return in 2023, but announced last month they would not be able to return until a new soccer specific stadium was constructed.
The MLS-owned teams have almost all completely left the league, with only Loudoun United remaining, although that doesn’t change anything for the Open Cup.
Las Vegas Lights were also propped up by LAFC who managed the player roster and paid their salaries. While no announcement has been made, it is expected that LAFC will not continue this arrangement, as they will be funding and operating their own reserve team in MLS Next Pro. There isn’t a single other team in American soccer that funds multiple professional reserve teams. This will likely force the Lights to leave USL Championship for 2023 unless some other arrangements are made to fund the roster. No player announcements have been made in this postseason despite other teams doing so.
Future expansion is in the pipeline for the league, so the non expansion of the participating teams from the league should only be temporary.
UPDATE (12/20/22): USL Championship has announced the conference alignment and schedule format for 2023, with Las Vegas Lights FC being included in the Western Conference. The team still has yet to make any roster announcements for the upcoming season, but there is clearly a plan for them to play next season. They have been added to this list and the numbers below adjusted
UPDATE (1/31/23): Although Steven Goff of the Washington Post announced that Loudoun United was in the works of changing ownership, making them eligible for the U.S. Open Cup, this does not appear to be done in time for the 2023 competition. We’ll be keeping an eye on this for 2024 and beyond.
UPDATE (2/2/23): Loudoun United and USL Championship announced today the sale of a controlling stake in the club to Greg Baroni and Attain Sports. This will immediately make the club eligible for the U.S. Open Cup, but with D.C. United still retaining a minority stake in the club, Loudoun United will not be allowed to face off against D.C. United in the competition (except in the Final). All projections below have been updated to reflect this.
Division III, USL League One (USL-1): 12 teams
- Central Valley Fuego FC
- Charlotte Independence
- Chattanooga Red Wolves SC
- Forward Madison FC
- Greenville Triumph SC
- Lexington SC (expansion)
- North Carolina FC
- Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC
- One Knox SC (expansion)
- Richmond Kickers
- South Georgia Tormenta FC
- Union Omaha
FC Tucson announced in October that they would not return to the league and would instead rejoin USL League Two for 2023. Lexington SC and One Knox SC were announced as expanding into the league. One Knox SC could follow the precedent set by their rivals in South Georgia and enter both a League One and League Two team into the tournament, which would be entirely separated in the competition.
USL League One made a recent announcement that the 12 teams in the league would play a 32-game schedule instead of a 30-game one, which indicated publicly the roster for 2023.
Should the league again choose to start in April, the expansion teams would need a waiver from the committee as rules state that expansion teams must play their first league match at least 7 days prior to their first Open Cup match.
Division III, National Independent Soccer Association (NISA): 9 teams
- ALBION San Diego
- Chattanooga FC
- Club de Lyon FC (expansion)
- Flower City Union
- Gold Star FC Detroit (expansion)
- Los Angeles Force
- Maryland Bobcats FC
- Michigan Stars FC
- Savannah Clovers FC (expansion)
The ever revolving door that is NISA continues. Chicago House AC, New Amsterdam, and Stumptown AC never even made it to the start of the 2022 season. Valley United AC and Bay Cities had to quit in the middle of the season as well. It is not expected that AC Syracuse Pulse will return for 2023, but we’re still waiting on official word. No social media post has been made for a couple weeks, and no player announcements as well this postseason.
On the flip side, they are quickly replaced with three expansion teams for 2023 in Club de Lyon, Gold Star FC Detroit, and the Savannah Clovers. Should there be more shenanigans as what played out last January, the committee and US Soccer may not be as forgiving this time for this league.
UPDATE (1/31/23): NISA, after long delays from audits and teams changing their minds at the last second, have confirmed 9 teams for the 2023 season. They also confirmed all 9 will play in the U.S. Open Cup, meaning waivers were granted to the 3 expansion clubs for the lateness of their schedule. California United Strikers FC have gone on hiatus though, so they will be removed from this list and the following sections have been updated as well.
Division III: MLS Next Pro (MLSNP): 1 team
- Rochester New York FC
Ineligible teams: 27 (every other team in the league)
Just as in 2022, this league is mostly made up of second teams of MLS sides. Those are ineligible for the US Open Cup, leaving Rochester New York FC (the club formerly known as the 1999 US Open Cup champion Rochester Rhinos) as the only eligible team participating in 2023. MLS Next Pro has announced two more independent teams for future seasons, so their participation in the Open Cup should steadily increase in the future.
- Division I (MLS): 26 teams
- Division II (USL-C): 24 teams (UPDATED 2/2/23)
- Division III (USL-1): 12 teams
- Division III (NISA): 9 teams (UPDATED 1/31/23)
- Division III (MLSNP): 1 team
- Total: 72 teams (modern era record)
UPDATE 12/20/22: Due to more pro teams being confirmed for participation in the 2023 season, the following sections have been updated to reflect this.
UPDATE 1/31/23: Due to fewer pro teams being confirmed for participation in the 2023 season, the following sections have been updated to reflect this
UPDATE 2/2/23: One additional pro team has been made eligible for participation in the 2023 season, so the following sections have been updated.
Part II: Possible Tournament Format
In July, US Soccer announced the vast majority of the format for the 2023 competition, the only question being which round the Division III teams would enter. Based on other factors, it is very likely the Division III teams will enter in the Second round with the Division II teams. This will leave 28 Open Division teams to enter the first round, four fewer than the 32 that entered in 2022. A total of 100 teams should be participating in the 2023 US Open Cup.
UPDATE 1/31/23: USL League One has a scheduled regular season game during the window of the First Round of the tournament. This is extremely good evidence that the Division 3 leagues will enter in the Second Round.
- First Round: 28 Open Division teams enter, 28 teams total
- Second Round: 24 USL-C teams, 12 USL-1 teams, 9 NISA teams, and 1 MLS Next Pro team enter and 14 winners of the First Round participate, 60 teams total
- Third Round: 18 MLS teams enter and 30 winners of the Second Round participate, 48 teams total
- Round of 32: 8 remaining MLS teams enter and 24 winners of the second round participate, 32 teams total
- Round of 16: 16 winners of Round of 32 face off, 16 teams total
- Quaterfinals: 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 eight MLS teams entering in the Round of 32 were decided in the same way as the 2022 tournament. The four 2022 CONCACAF Champions League participants (Los Angeles FC, Philadelphia Union, Orlando City SC, and Austin FC) and then the two best eligible teams remaining from each of the conferences based on the standings last year (East: New York City FC, New York Red Bulls) (West: FC Dallas, LA Galaxy). The remaining 18 teams, including expansion St. Louis CITY SC will enter in the Third Round.
Just as in previous seasons, divisions or pools of teams that enter will be excluded from playing each other in the immediate round of entry for that pool. Here’s how the matchups will likely be determined in each round of the tournament along with their restrictions:
- First Round: All matches should be between teams from different groups (NPSL, USL-2, and LQ), except that in this round this can be waived if doing so will “avoid extensive travel on balance for the participating teams.” Teams will be matched up as best they can be to a team geographically close to them. There will not be an open draw determining match-ups for this round, just the usual coin flips for determining hosts.
- Second Round: In this round, teams from the same professional division (or the first round winners) cannot play each other, the individual league does not matter. A match between Chattanooga Red Wolves and Chattanooga FC would be impossible in this round as they are both Division III teams, but possible in subsequent rounds. Teams will be matched up by geography except for the restriction already mentioned. Because of this restriction, this is how many matches we would see between the groups for the Second Round.
- 6 matches of a First Round winner vs. a Division III team
- 8 matches of a First Round winner vs. a Division II team
- 16 matches of a Division III team vs. a Division II team
- Third Round: The 18 MLS teams cannot play each other, so another early matchup between Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers would not be possible in this round, but possible in subsequent rounds. This round is when teams will be grouped by geography into groups of 4 or 6 and then they draw match-ups within the group.
- Round of 32: This round only has a restriction on the 8 MLS teams that enter in this round. To prevent them from playing each other, their will be 8 groups of 4 teams with the 8 MLS teams that enter in this round being in completely different groups. Matchups that are not possible in the Round of 32 for 2023 include the Hudson River Derby between NYCFC and New York Red Bulls and El Trafico between LAFC and LA Galaxy. Both of these matchups would be possible in subsequent rounds though. After forming the 8 groups of 4 teams by geography with that restriction, matchups will be openly drawn within the groups.
- Round of 16 will see the final bracket finally shape up. The remaining teams will be grouped into 4 groups of 4 teams geographically, with all divisional restrictions removed. From there the Round of 16 matches will be openly drawn within the groups. The final bracket will then be made with the quarterfinals being within the groups, then the semifinals being paired up geographically, and the final being a typical east vs. west matchup.
Part III: Allocation of Open Division slots
Now let’s determine how the 28 Open Division slots will be allocated. We already know 9 teams will qualify from the past four rounds of qualifying games. We also know that Bavarian United have also qualified as USASA National Amateur Cup champion, making a total of 10 teams with the local qualifier designation.
Local Qualifiers, 10 teams:
- Bavarian United SC
- Beaman United FC
- Capo FC
- Chicago House AC
- Club de Lyon
- Inter San Francisco
- Lansdowne Yonkers FC
- Miami United FC
- UDA Soccer
- West Chester United SC
Club de Lyon may be forced to have two teams in the tournament, a NISA professional side and a NISA Nation amateur side. There isn’t a rule against it and they would just be completely separated from playing each other throughout the tournament. Unlike the Open Division national leagues, once you’re in qualifying, you can’t just quit without completely forfeiting the $1500 performance bond paid.
That leaves 18 slots remaining for the two National Leagues, NPSL and USL League Two. These are given out proportionally to each league based on the number of eligible playing teams in the league for 2022. USL League Two had a record 111 teams in 2022 compared to the 92 teams in NPSL. The total is 203 teams Here’s how the math shakes out for each league:
18 slots times 111 teams in USL-2 divided by 203 total teams equals 9.84 slots rounded up to 10.
18 slots times 92 teams in NPSL divided by 203 total teams equals 8.15 slots rounded down to 8.
With that, here’s the teams that could qualify for each league. The teams from these two leagues were already required to commit and fill out entry forms for the tournament. The final announcement of which teams make it in won’t be announced until the finalization of the professional leagues early in 2023. Once that is made, the slots for NPSL and USL-2 will be adjusted if there are more or less teams in the pro leagues than expected.
National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), 8 teams
- FC Motown
- Crossfire Redmond
- Muskegon Risers
- Tulsa Athletic
- Jacksonville Armada FC U-23s
- El Farolito
- Appalachian FC
- Cleveland SC
Should the number of teams increase or teams decline their bid for some reason, here are some of the alternate teams in each NPSL region. Spots for NPSL stay within the region if a team declines to participate (ex. if FC Motown declines to participate, their spot would go to the next ranked East region team, Hartford City FC).
- East Region: Hartford City FC
- South Region: Atletico de Miami Beach
- Midwest Region: Med City FC
- West Region: Sacramento Gold FC
USL League Two (USL-2), 10 teams
- Ventura County Fusion
- Lionsbridge FC
- Des Moines Menace
- Seacoast United Phantoms
- Nona FC
- Manhattan SC
- Ocean City Nor’easters
- Chicago FC United
- North Carolina Fusion U23
- Brazos Valley Cavalry
Should the number of teams increase or teams decline their bid for some reason, here are the next 4 alternates in order.
- One Knoxville SC
- South Bend Lions
- Texas United
- Capital FC Atletico
One Knoxville SC may run both their USL-1 and USL-2 teams in the competition next season if they want to, there is no restriction against it. South Georgia Tormenta FC did so in the 2019 U.S. Open Cup.