The U.S. Open Cup introduced a host of changes on Wednesday, most of them designed to better compensate teams and to introduce a bit more randomness into the draw. As they pertain to the Seattle Sounders, the biggest change will be to how the draw for the fourth round — when MLS teams enter — is conducted.
In previous years, fourth-round pairings were effectively determined by the Open Cup organizers. For the most part, the tournament has tried to avoid MLS vs. MLS matchups so early in the tournament, but numbers have dictated it being a necessity. This has led to the Sounders facing the Portland Timbers in the fourth round in two of the past three years. The two teams have faced off five times in the nine years since the Sounders entered MLS.
Chances are high that the Sounders and Timbers will still end up playing one another semi-regularly, but at least there will now be a draw to determine the matchup. Unlike previous years, the Open Cup is introducing the regional draw in the fourth round instead of in the Round of 16. The fourth round draw will consist of eight regionalized groups of four teams, with each group having at least one third-round winner from the lower divisions.
Aside from the Timbers — who are almost guaranteed to be placed in the same region as the Sounders — other professional teams who might be included in Seattle’s group are the San Jose Earthquakes, Real Salt Lake, Colorado Rapids, Reno 1868, Sacramento Republic and Colorado Switchbacks. USL teams owned and/or operated by MLS teams remain ineligible for the tournament, meaning teams like S2, T2 and Real Monarchs won’t be in the tournament.
The only other change that should directly affect the Sounders is an increase in prize money for the winning team to $300,000 (up from $250,000). The runner-up will receive $100,000 (up from $60,000).
Among the other notable changes were an increase in the available travel reimbursement and prize money for lower-division teams.