US Open Cup 2021: US Soccer’s plan, format for competition

After being forced to cancel last year’s U.S. Open Cup tournament, thus breaking a 106-year streak, the U.S. Soccer Federation is planning to stage a smaller, more compressed tournament in 2021. It will feature 24 entrants playing from May 4-5 through to the final on June 29-30.

The tournament will comprise five rounds, with 16 clubs from the lower divisions of American soccer facing off in the first. The first-round survivors will move on to the round of 16, where eight MLS teams will be waiting. The competition’s winner will earn a spot in the 2022 Concacaf Champions League.

The 24 Open Cup qualifiers have not yet been determined, but they will be selected from MLS, the USL Championship, USL League One, NISA and from among the 36 amateur teams that booked a place in the 2020 tournament.

“That will be worked out in the coming weeks,” U.S. Open Cup commissioner Paul Marstaller told Sports Illustrated. “There are a number of possibilities, and U.S. Soccer will be working with each of the participating leagues to sort out what the best path possible is in each circumstance.”

The federation’s Open Cup committee will have the final say on who gets in. Among the possibilities are using 2020 league results, a blind draw or some combination thereof.

“Everything is on the table,” Marstaller said.

The schedule is tight, but U.S. Soccer has given itself leeway to cancel the opening round if necessary. On March 29, it’ll consider whether or not to move forward with the first 16 games on May 4-5. If the pandemic makes staging those games impossible, U.S. Soccer will cancel the round and select eight teams to progress to the round of 16. Then on April 19, the federation will determine whether the round of 16 can be played a month later.

“If on April 19, the conditions [to play] are still not in place, we will concede to Mother Nature and begin planning for 2022,” Marstaller said.

The Open Cup committee is working on what to do if a given team is unable to make a scheduled game. There’s “really no room in the calendar” for postponements, Marstaller explained.

The 2020 Open Cup was canceled in mid-August. It marked the first time the competition wasn’t staged since the inaugural campaign of 1913-14. As of last summer, the Open Cup was the second-longest continually contested annual sports competition in the world. As holder of the trophy, 2019 champion Atlanta United took the Open Cup’s berth in the 2021 CCL.

Here’s a breakdown of the rounds, dates and qualification places for the 2021 U.S. Open Cup:

May 4-5 – First Round

    – Four amateur teams from the Open division comprising USL League Two, NPSL and local qualifying tournaments (from among 36 eligible 2020 qualifiers)

    – Four teams from USL League One and NISA (two each)

    – Eight teams from USL Championship

May 18-19 – Round of 16

    – Eight teams from MLS

May 25-26 – Quarterfinals

June 15-16 – Semifinals

June 29-30 – Final

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