CHICAGO – At its meeting last week, U.S. Soccer’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Committee made the difficult decision not to hold the tournament’s previously planned opening round, which was scheduled for May 4-5.
The committee cited the challenges still in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic given the competition is played across the country involving clubs from multiple professional and amateur divisions and leagues.
In early February, the Open Cup committee approved a contingency plan in the event the Opening Round needed to be cancelled.
The tournament is now structured to feature 16 teams which will play four rounds in pursuit of the 2021 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title. The Committee will next review matters by April 19 to confirm whether the Open Cup can commence with the Round of 16 on May 18-19 for its 107th edition.
“After meeting with the Committee and listening to our members and our medical professionals, it became clear that the difficulties of staging the Opening Round given the current environment made the decision to not play the correct one, as we will always prioritize the health and safety of the players and staff first,” said U.S. Open Cup Commissioner Paul Marstaller. “We will continue to monitor the situation and hope for more positive news in three weeks as it relates to the Round of 16. Crowning a champion in the most history-filled soccer competition in the USA, something we missed doing in 2020 for the first time in 107 years, is an annual highlight in the U.S. Soccer calendar that we always look forward to.”
Despite the reduction in rounds and participants, the Open Cup will still have representation from each of the four divisions that normally compete in the tournament: Professional Division I, Division II, Division III and the Open Division (encompassing all other affiliated teams and leagues).
Methods Set for Determining Participating Teams
In order to narrow down from the 101 sides eligible for the tournament, the Open Cup Committee approved the methods for determining the 16 teams who will participate in the 2021 competition. The methods, by division, are as follows:
Division I (8 slots) – Top eight USA-based Major League Soccer clubs from 2021 regular season play based on average standings points per game as of May 3 (after three weekends of action)
Division II (4 slots) – USL Championship 2020 semifinal playoff teams: El Paso Locomotive FC, Louisville City FC, Phoenix Rising FC, Tampa Bay Rowdies
Division III (2 slots) – National Independent Soccer Association 2020 Fall Champion Detroit City FC, USL League One 2020 Regular Season Champion Greenville Triumph SC
Open Division (2 slots) – Random draw to be conducted on April 7 to include the following:
One Open Division Local Qualifier drawn randomly from among 12 eligible
One National Premier Soccer League team drawn randomly from among 13 eligible
One USL League Two team drawn randomly from among 10 eligible
2019 U.S. Adult Soccer Association National Amateur Cup champion Newtown Pride FC (Conn.)
2021 Tournament Format
As has typically been the case since 1996 when the Open Cup first included Major League Soccer clubs during the circuit’s inaugural year, Division I teams will face lower division competition in their initial tournament game.
The 16 participating teams will be pooled on a geographic basis into groups of four, with each quartet consisting of two Division I teams and two lower division sides. If multiple options are available for creating the groups, the composition will be determined by random selection. A draw will be conducted within each group so that each Division I team is paired against a lower division club. Teams that apply to host having a venue that meets minimum requirements will have hosting priority.
The Round of 16 Draw, scheduled for May 4, will also decide the pairings and home teams for the Quarterfinal Round while setting the bracket for the remainder of the tournament. A separate draw after the Quarterfinal Round will determine the Semifinal Round hosts and the priority order for hosting the 2021 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final.
ESPN+ to Broadcast Matches
As part of a four-year deal, ESPN+ will be the home for the 2021 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, showing every match from the Round of 16 to the Final.
2021 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Competition Schedule
April 7 Draw held to determine Open Division participants into Round of 16
April 19 Date for confirming Round of 16*
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-II, 2 D-III, 2 Open Division clubs)
May 25-26 Quarterfinal Round
June 15-16 Semifinal Round
June 29 or 30 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final
* If conditions for holding Round of 16 cannot be met on April 19, 2021 tournament will be canceled