U.S. Open Cup's First Round Canceled, Field Trimmed, Entrant Process Finalized

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A year after being called off for the first time in more than a century, the U.S. Open Cup still is going ahead in 2021. But it’s not full-steam ahead, as the pandemic has wreaked further havoc on the schedule. The U.S. Soccer Federation announced Monday that due to travel and logistical complications, the first round of the already-abbreviated competition has been canceled. The May 4-5 matches were to comprise 16 clubs from the American game’s lower divisions.

That leaves 16 teams to vie for U.S. soccer’s oldest honor and a berth in the 2022 Concacaf Champions League. The entrants are now broken down as follows:

Division I - MLS (eight): Rather than use 2020 results, MLS announced Monday that every team will have a shot at playing in the 2021 Open Cup. The top eight USA-based teams in the points-per-game standings after three weekends of regular season play will qualify.

Division II - USL Championship (four): The four 2020 USL Championship semifinalists will qualify: El Paso Locomotive, Louisville City, Phoenix Rising and Tampa Bay Rowdies. Last year’s USL final between Phoenix and Tampa Bay was canceled.

Division III - USL League One and NISA (two): 2020 League One champion Greenville Triumph and NISA 2020 fall champion Detroit City will qualify.

Open Division (two): On April 7, the USSF will draw two teams from among the 36 eligible amateur qualifiers for the canceled 2020 Open Cup, which came from USL League Two, the NPSL and local amateur playoffs. A pot of four teams will be created from 10 eligible League Two clubs, 13 eligible NPSL clubs, 12 eligible amateur clubs and 2019 National Amateur Cup winner Newtown (Conn.) Pride. The two Open Cup participants then will be drawn from that pot of four.

U.S. Soccer will decide on April 19 whether the round of 16, which is now the tournament’s first round, can be played. The eight MLS sides will be known by May 3, and the draw will take place the following day for games to be held on May 18-19. The 16 teams will be grouped in geographic pods of four, each containing two MLS sides and two lower-tier sides. MLS teams will face lower-tier opposition in each of the eight first-round matches.

Here’s the new Open Cup schedule:

April 7 - Amateur qualifier draw

April 19 - Date to confirm round of 16 (and tournament as a whole) can be played

May 3 - Confirmation of eight MLS entrants

May 4 - Draw

May 18-19 - Round of 16

May 25-26 - Quarterfinals

June 15-16 - Semifinals

June 29-30 - Final

Regarding the original first round’s cancellation, Open Cup commissioner Paul Marstaller said, “After meeting with the [Open Cup] 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. We will continue to monitor the situation and hope for more positive news in three weeks as it relates to the round of 16.”