U.S. Open Cup expands to 80-team field, largest in modern era
The largest field in the modern era of the U.S. Open Cup will compete for $250,000 and a spot in the 2015-16 CONCACAF Champions League this year. U.S. Soccer released the complete schedule for the first two rounds on Thursday, as well as a list of the 80 teams that will be involved.
That number is an increase from the 68 teams in 2013 that set an Open Cup record in the competition's 100th year. However, the cash prizes remain the same: the winner takes home $250,000, the runner-up gets $60,000 and the longest survivor from each lower division wins $15,000.
Two amateur teams, five National Premier Soccer League teams, four from the U.S. Adult Soccer Association and five from the Premier Development League comprise the Open Cup's first round, which takes place May 7. The eight winners join the United Soccer Leagues' 14 franchises and 26 remaining non-professional teams in the second round a week later.
North American Soccer League teams enter in the third round, while Major League Soccer teams come in last. The tiered-entry system mimics those of cup competitions in Europe, where lower-division teams fight their way through qualifiers and the early rounds to earn a chance at taking down a big club.
Unlike the NASL and MLS, though, the Open Cup will not break for the World Cup in June. Instead, the organizers will take advantage of both leagues' breaks to schedule fourth-round matches on June 14 and 15 whenever possible, allowing U.S. pro teams to play a weekend Open Cup match for the first time in the modern era of the tournament.
The usual team-pairing quirks apply throughout this year's Open Cup: teams from the same league can't meet each other until the later rounds, geography will be taken into account in scheduling games, and "parent" teams (such as the New York Red Bulls MLS team) cannot play other teams from their own system (such as the Red Bulls U23 NPSL team) until the final.
D.C. United is the reigning cup holder, winning the tournament for a third time after upsetting Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium in the 2013 final.
Full first- and second-round schedules can be found on the U.S. Soccer website. The round-by-round tournament schedule is as follows:
- First Round: May 7.
- Second Round: May 14 (USL enters).
- Third Round: May 28 (NASL enters).
- Fourth Round: June 10-18 (MLS enters).
- Fifth Round: June 24-25.
- Quarterfinals: July 8-9.
- Semifinals: Aug. 12-13.
- Final: Sept. 30-Oct. 1.