US Open Cup announces condensed 2021 tournament

The US Open Cup committee announced changes to the tournament format due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic on Tuesday. Typically open to 101 eligible clubs from across the American soccer pyramid, the 107th edition will be limited to just 24 clubs.

Updated format

The 2021 Open Cup will kick off May 4-5, and will consist of just five round (down from the usual eight), and will take place across two months, with the final taking place on June 29 or 30.

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“As we looked at our scheduling options, the Open Cup Committee first prioritized the health and safety of the players and decided against scheduling matches in both March and April due to the ongoing circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said U.S. Open Cup Commissioner Paul Marstaller through the press release. “We also took into consideration the extended June FIFA window and the Concacaf Gold Cup taking place through August 1, along with the semifinal and final rounds of the 2021 Concacaf Champions League scheduled for the fall. In the end, we all felt a shortened version for this year was the best format and we’re excited to have the opportunity to crown a champion after not being able to in 2020.”

The 2020 season was the first since the inaugural 1913-14 tournament that a winner was not crowned, ending 106 years of consecutive play. It is the oldest ongoing national soccer competition in the United States.

Reduced participants

As part of the condensed format, only 24 clubs will participate in 2021. This is the first time since 2011 that not all eligible teams will participate, but clubs from the usual four divisions will still be represented.

The four divisions will be represented as follows:

  • Open Division (4)
    • Four of the 36 Open Division clubs invited to participate
    • The 36 eligible teams invited for the 2021 edition are those who would have played in the 2020 Open Cup had it not been canceled; they include the 12 survivors from the qualifying tournament held in the fall of 2019, the 2019 U.S. Adult Soccer Association National Amateur Cup champion and qualified teams from the National Premier Soccer League and USL League Two
  • Division III (4)
    • Two of the nine eligible sides from the National Independent Soccer Association
    • Two of the eight eligible USL League One clubs
  • Division II (8)
    • Eight of the 24 eligible USL Championship squads
  • Division I (8)
    • Eight of the 24 USA-based MLS clubs will enter at the Round of 16 on May 18-1

The committee will officially announce the method for determining participating clubs in the coming weeks.

Contingency plan

Because of the ongoing impact of Covid-19, the Open Cup committee announced that they’ve approved a contingency plan that could cancel the Opening Round and reallocate slots for lower division teams into the Round of 16.

March 29 is the deadline to determine whether the Opening Round can be played on May 4-5. If that isn’t feasible, the committee will meet again on April 19 to decide if the Round of 16 can begin on May 18-19.

In the case that the Opening Round is cancelled, the eight lower division teams will receive berths as follows:

  • Division II – four slots
  • Division III – two slots (one from USL League One, one from NISA)
  • Open Division – two slots

If the committee determines on April 19 that conditions are not conducive to begin the Round of 16, the 2021 tournament will be canceled.

2021 Open Cup competition schedule

  • March 29 Date for confirming Opening Round*
  • March 31 Opening Round matchups announced
  • April 19 Date for confirming Round of 16**
  • April 21 or 28 Round of 16/Quarterfinal Draw (held earlier if Opening Round is not played)
  • May 4-5 Opening Round (8 D-II [USLC], 4 D-III [NISA/USLL1], 4 Open Division clubs)
  • May 18-19 Round of 16 (8 D-I [MLS] teams vs. winners from Opening Round)
  • 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 Opening Round cannot be met on March 29, Opening Round will be canceled
** If conditions for holding Round of 16 cannot be met on April 19, 2021 tournament will be canceled

ESPN+ will broadcast each match of the 2021 Open Cup, as part of a four year deal.

Full list of eligible teams

Professional Division Teams:

Division I – Major League Soccer (24 teams)
Atlanta United FC (reigning Lamar Hunt U.S. 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

Division II – USL Championship (24 teams, excluding those majority-owned or otherwise controlled by a higher division professional club)
Austin Bold FC, Birmingham Legion FC, Charleston Battery, Charlotte Independence, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, El Paso Locomotive FC, FC Tulsa, Hartford Athletic, Indy Eleven, Las Vegas Lights FC, Louisville City FC, Memphis 901 FC, Miami FC, New Mexico United, Oakland Roots, OKC Energy FC, Orange County SC, Phoenix Rising FC, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, Rio Grande Valley FC Toros, Sacramento Republic FC, San Antonio FC, San Diego Loyal SC, Tampa Bay Rowdies

Division III – National Independent Soccer Association (9 teams)
1904 FC, California United Strikers FC, Chattanooga FC, Detroit City FC, LA Force, Maryland Bobcats FC, Michigan Stars FC, New Amsterdam FC, Stumptown Athletic

Division III – USL League One (8 teams, excluding those majority-owned or otherwise controlled by a higher division professional club)
Chattanooga Red Wolves SC, FC Tucson, Forward Madison FC, Greenville Triumph SC, North Carolina FC, Richmond Kickers, South Georgia Tormenta FC, Union Omaha

Open Division Teams:

Local Qualifiers (12)
East Region: Christos FC (Md.), New York Pancyprian Freedoms (N.Y.), Vereinigung Erzgebirge (Pa.), Virginia United* (Va.)
Central Region: Louisiana Krewe FC (La.), Miami United FC (Fla.), Nashville United (Tenn.), NTX Rayados* (Texas)
West Region: Cal FC* (Calif.), Chula Vista FC (Calif.), Harpos FC** (Colo.), Olympic Club (Calif.)

* Participated in 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup
** 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 (13)
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

* Participated in 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup

The NPSL entered its teams via the National Leagues track under Open Cup regulations.

USL League Two (10)
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

* Participated in 2019 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup

USL League Two entered its teams via the National Leagues track under Open Cup regulations.

Author: Ben Wrightis the Director of Soccer Content and a Senior MLS Contributor for Broadway Sports covering Nashville SC and the US National Team. Previously Ben was the editor and a founder of Speedway Soccer, where he has covered Nashville SC and their time in USL before journeying to Major League Soccer since 2018. Raised in Louisville, KY Ben grew up playing before a knee injury ended his competitive career. When he is not talking soccer he is probably producing music, drinking coffee or hanging out with his wife and kids. Mastodon

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