[U.S. OPEN CUP] When the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open begins play June 14, 40 teams will compete in the 98th edition of the oldest soccer trophy in the United States. Notable by its absence is representation from the North American Soccer League, whose failure to secure provisional sanctioning until last week precluded its five U.S. teams from being included in the competition. Not that it seems to bother the struggling D2 league's CEO.
"It was simply too late to incorporate them into the process in the various stages of the tournament,” U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said during a joint teleconference with NASL CEO Aaron Davidson on Tuesday to announce that provisional sanctioning of the NASL had been reapproved by U.S. Soccer's Board of Directors. “The timing does not work for the five U.S.-based teams to participate. They will not be playing this year.”
While many fans questioned the move -- after all, Division II teams have a long history of success in the tournament -- Davidson did not seem upset with the decision.
“Frankly, from our perspective -- I don't want this to come out the wrong way -- but we need to focus on our league right now,” he said on Wednesday. “The US Open Cup is a phenomenal tournament, it gives you a chance to play MLS teams in games that matter, and it gives you a chance if you win it all you get to go to the [Concacaf] Champions League. But, at the end of the day, we all know we’d rather focus on this league this season. The U.S. Open Cup games still cost you money, it’s hard to draw serious gates there because you don't have a lot of lead time to promote them, they’re on weekdays, [and] they're usually Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays. Obviously, if you get to the later rounds, there are chances at really top matches. But we look forward to coming back to the U.S. Open Cup in 2012. Let’s focus on NASL this year.”
The NASL received provisional sanctioning, lost its sanctioning and was granted provisional sanctioning again despite questions about the depth of its ownership among its eight clubs.
The Rochester Rhinos won the U.S. Open title in 1999, and the Charleston Battery finished second in 2008. (Both will be entered in the 2011 edition as members of new USL PRO.)
The two-time defending champions Seattle Sounders will look to equal the record of the New York Greek-Americans, who are the only team to win three years in a row (1967-69).
The Sounders are among six MLS teams that have received automatic berths into the round of 16. They will be joined by two teams who qualify from among MLS's other 10 U.S. teams.
The other 32 entrants will compete in the first two rounds to determine the eight clubs who will face the MLS eight.
All 11 U.S. teams from USL PRO will qualify, along with nine conference representatives from the PDL, eight teams (regional champions and runners-up) from the USASA and four (format to be determined) from the amateur NPSL.
The 2011 champion will earn a $100,000 cash prize, while the runner-up will collect $50,000. The top Division III and Amateur Division clubs will each receive a $10,000 prize.
2011 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Schedule
May 30: Qualifying Deadline
June 14: First Round (32 teams from USL PRO and Amateur Division)
June 21: Second Round (First round winners)
June 28: Third Round (Second round winners paired against eight MLS teams)
July 12: Quarterfinals
Aug. 30: Semifinals
Oct. 4: Final
2011 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Participating Teams
Major League Soccer (Division I – 8 teams):
Six automatic qualifiers based on the 2010 regular season standings and two qualifiers from a play-in competition that features 10 teams.
Automatic Qualifiers (6 berths): Columbus Crew, FC Dallas, Los Angeles Galaxy, New York Red Bulls, Real Salt Lake, Seattle Sounders
Play-in Qualifiers (2 berths): Chicago Fire, Chivas USA, Colorado Rapids, D.C. United, Houston Dynamo, New England Revolution, Philadelphia Union, Portland Timbers, San Jose Earthquakes, Sporting Kansas City
United Soccer Leagues PRO (Division III – 11 teams):
All U.S.-based clubs automatically qualify.
Automatic Qualifiers (11 berths): Charleston Battery, Charlotte Eagles, Dayton Dutch Lions, Harrisburg City Islanders, Los Angeles Blues, FC New York, Orlando City, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Richmond Kickers, Rochester Rhinos, Wilmington Hammerheads
United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League (Amateur – 9 teams):
The top U.S.-based club from each of nine PDL divisions will qualify based on the results of four pre-selected 2011 regular season games. Each of the 54 teams eligible will play two home and two away matches that will serve as qualifiers.
U.S. Adult Soccer Association (Amateur – 8 teams):
The first and second place teams from each of the four U.S. Soccer regions will advance to the tournament. Approximately 50 teams entered qualifying at the local or state level.
National Premier Soccer League (Amateur – 4 teams):
The process for determining NPSL qualifying teams will be announced in the coming weeks. The 36-team national amateur league is affiliated with the USASA. In previous years its teams participated via USASA regional qualifying.