2019 US Open Cup Likely To Be The Least “Open” Of Them All

Florida Soccer Soldiers defeated Red Force FC in U.S. Open Cup qualifying at Tropical Park Stadium in Miami on Oct. 21, 2018. Photo by Lee Ifans.

The nation’s oldest soccer tournament has long been a historic tradition that has allowed some of the country’s smallest soccer clubs to square off against the heavyweights. The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup began in 1914, long before the official pyramid was even thought of. The inclusivity of the tournament allowed many proverbial “David v Goliath” matches to take place. With the expansion of the professional pyramid over the years, fewer amateur and semi-pro clubs have had the ability to compete. The 106th edition may be one of the worst for the non-professional sides. 

Recently, the U.S. Soccer Federation announced that there will be a fourth round of qualifying in order to enter the field in the “first round” for the first time. Prior to 2015, qualification was based off state/regional tournaments for amateur sides, consisting one usually three or less fixtures. National Premier Soccer League teams would qualify via their own qualification tournaments.

2016 – 2018

Beginning in 2016 amateur clubs that did not belong to the USL’s Professional Development League (PDL) or the NPSL would find themselves in a regional qualification tournament ran directly by the federation. 2016 consisted of 56 “open division” clubs entered and 14 found themselves with a spot in the tournament. 2017 consisted of another 56 clubs taking part in round one with 18 earning entry into the tournament. 2018 had a whopping 108 amateur clubs that took part in qualification with 13 earning a spot in the main dance after a disqualification of El Farolito (California).

Simple arithmetic shows that over the past three years on average 23% of the amateur clubs earn a spot in the first round of the Open Cup. The highest being in 2017 (32%) and the lowest last year with only 12% of amateur clubs getting in. Think that number is low? It’s going to be far lower in the 106th edition of the tournament.

2019 – ??

2019 had 94 amateur clubs enter into the qualification rounds after approval from USSF. 76 of those clubs squared off in round one with 18 earning a bye into the second round. The first round of qualification in this year’s edition was an absolute travesty for fans of soccer locally. The first round penned amateur heavy weights Red Force against FC Kendall. These two teams both qualified for the tournament in 2018, and did not earn a bye into the second or at least a route to avoid each other early on. Six other Florida based clubs would play in the first round leaving the total to four.

Red Force FC and FC Kendall face off at Tropical Park Stadium in Miami on Sept. 23, 2018. Photo by Drew Housman.
Red Force FC and FC Kendall face off at Tropical Park Stadium in Miami on Sept. 23, 2018. Photo by Drew Housman.

The second round of qualifying would see 56 teams battle for one of the 28 spots in the third round. Again, Magic City fans would lose the chance to have two horses in the race as Red Force would lose to the Florida Soccer Soldiers. The remaining 28 team would face-off in what should have been the final round of qualifying, with the up-start Florida Soccer Soldiers assuredly locking up a spot in the tournament after a 6-0 thrashing of Delray Beach’s Hurricane FC, along with 13 others around the country.

Unfortunately, 14 amateur clubs is considered too many given the introduction of USL League One (Division 3) and additional expansion clubs in the USL Championship (Division 2). Therefore, a fourth round is being introduced. Just seven open division clubs will earn a birth in the U.S. Open Cup, that is just 7.45% of entrants, the lowest ever. To put this into perspective, last year Miami had 5 teams in the tournament (Miami FC, Miami United, FC Miami City, Red Force, and FC Kendall). This year, Florida Soccer Soldiers will need to win their match in order to join Miami FC in the big dance.

Based off allocation numbers presented by the USSF, NPSL and PDL will likely only receive 13 and 9 entries respectively. A spot has already been clinched by the Bavarian Majors (Milwaukee, WI) for winning the Amateur Cup. Unfortunately, the 106th US Open Cup looks likely to be the most exclusive in history while the sport grows in exponential figures.

Now more than ever there is a need for multiple cup tournaments through out the United States. An inclusive “Open Cup” that fields all League and Non-League entrants, a Professional (league) Cup, and a Non-League National Cup (NPSL/PDL/Open). As it stands, the US Open Cup is more reflective of the “Carabao” EFL Cup than it’s namesake. The funding is available for all of these tournaments to exist, it just takes a little bit of effort on the part of the federation to make it a reality.

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