At its meeting earlier this month, U.S. Soccer’s Open Cup Committee approved the schedule, format and a contingency plan for the 2021 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
U.S. Soccer’s National Championship returns to the field for its 107th edition after not crowning an annual champion in 2020 for the first time in its storied history, which dates back to the inaugural 1913-14 competition.
COMPETITION FORMAT REVISED FOR 2021
The 2021 Open Cup will kick off May 4 and 5, and only be five rounds – instead of its usual eight – due to COVID-19 implications and a congested schedule later in the year. The five rounds will also take place across a much shorter timeframe of just two months, with the Open Cup Final scheduled for June 29 or 30.
“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 with the COVID-19 pandemic,” said U.S. Open Cup Commissioner Paul Marstaller. “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 being scheduled in 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.”
NUMBER OF PARTICIPATING TEAMS
With only five rounds in the 2021 tournament, the number of teams able to compete is reduced to 24 from 101 eligible clubs.
The necessary reduction means for the first time since 2011 that not all eligible teams from U.S. Soccer’s three professional divisions will participate.
Despite the reduction, the Open Cup will still have representation from each of the four divisions that normally compete in the tournament: Professional Division I, Division II, Division III, and the Open Division (encompassing all other affiliated teams and leagues).
The breakdown of the 24 teams from each of the four divisions is 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 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 18-19, with each facing one of eight winners from the Opening Round.
The mechanisms to be used to determine the participating teams for the 2021 Open Cup will be announced in the coming weeks.
CONTINGENCY PLAN APPROVED
If the COVID-19 pandemic continues to severely impact the USA into the spring, the Open Cup Committee has approved a contingency plan that allows for the cancelation of the Opening Round and a reallocation of slots for lower division teams into the Round of 16.
The Committee has identified March 29 as the deadline to determine whether conditions exist for the Opening Round to take place on May 4-5. If favorable conditions are not in place, the Committee will cancel the Opening Round and next review matters on April 19 to decide whether the Open Cup may commence with the Round of 16 on May 18-19.
If the tournament opens with the Round of 16, the allocation of eight berths for lower division teams will be as follows:
Division II – 4 slots
Division III – 2 slots (one each to NISA and USL League One)
Open Division – 2 slots
CERTAIN DEADLINES AND MATCH QUANTITY ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS WAIVED FOR 2021 OPEN CUP
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s adverse impact to date, the Open Cup Committee approved a waiver of the deadlines and match quantity eligibility requirements listed in Section 202(a) of the Open Cup Policy for the 2021 tournament.
This waiver allows a number of clubs to participate who would have run afoul of the regulations as many Open Division teams throughout the country (including all NPSL and USL League One clubs) did not have league games in 2020.
At the same time, with several Open Division Local Qualifiers changing leagues in recent months, the Open Cup deadline for playing in these leagues was waived.
Additionally, the professional circuits have delayed announcing schedules for 2021 beyond the Jan. 31 deadline as they navigate the current environment for starting their respective competitions this spring.
ESPN+ TO BROADCAST MATCHES
As part of a four-year deal, ESPN+ will be the home for the 2021 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, showing every match from the Opening Round through to the Final.
2021 LAMAR HUNT U.S. 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, tournament for 2021 will be canceled