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Revamped U.S. Open Cup will see 11 MLS teams enter in third round

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Sounders will still enter in fourth round.

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-Seattle Sounders vs Portland Timbers Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The U.S. Soccer Federation released the format for the 2020 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament, and there is one change which will affect nearly half of Major League Soccer teams.

In a major change from previous editions of the USOC — the oldest open soccer competition in the United States — 11 MLS sides will be required to enter in the third round, one round earlier than in previous years. Those teams (Chicago Fire FC, Colorado Rapids, Columbus Crew SC, FC Cincinnati, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, Inter Miami CF, Nashville SC, Orlando City SC, San Jose Earthquakes, Sporting Kansas City) thus will have an additional round of games to navigate to claim the title. Last year’s tournament featured just 11 matchups between MLS and lower-division teams for the entire tournament. This year, there will be at least that many and up to 16 more in later rounds.

According to U.S. Soccer, the determination as to which MLS teams would enter in the fourth round was made by awarding four slots to the Concacaf Champions League participants from the United States, and then each of the four best remaining records from the Eastern and Western Conferences. This appears to be aimed at rewarding teams who finished higher in the standings a bye. As both a participant of CCL and by finishing with one of the top-4 records in Western Conference, the Seattle Sounders will enter in round 4.

Additionally, the tournament will start earlier than ever before, with the opening rounds of the main tournament beginning March 24-25, featuring Open Division participants. In another change, all professional Division II (USL-Championship) and Division III (USL-League One; NISA) sides will enter in the second round, followed by the 11 MLS sides a round later, and the remaining 12 MLS teams in round four.

The longer tournament calendar should allow for the teams hosting to further market the games and sell tickets. The addition of MLS teams in round three will diversify the potential match-ups, since there will be more guaranteed MLS teams facing lower division sides earlier in the tournament.

All match-ups will continue to be broadcast on ESPN+, as the network signed a four-year deal with US Soccer commencing with the 2019 tournament. The prize money for the winners ($300,000) and runners-up ($100,000) remains the same, as does the reward for each lower-division team who advances the farthest ($25,000). The schedule for the Round of 16 through the final has not yet been finalized. The participants from Divisions II and III will be confirmed after the Dec. 31 professional division confirmation deadline. Lower division teams that are owned or controlled by higher division teams (e.g. Tacoma Defiance) are ineligible for the tournament.

2020 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Competition Schedule

Jan. 9: Pairings methodology, Open Division berth allocation announced

Jan. 22: First Round pairings announced

Jan. 29: Second Round pairings and possible pairings announced

March 24-25: First Round (Open Division teams enter)

April 7-9: Second Round (Division II and III teams enter)

April 10: Third Round Draw

April 21-23 Third Round (11 Division I teams enter)

April 24: Round of 32 Draw

May 19-20 Round of 32 (remaining 12 Division I teams enter)

May 21: Round of 16/Quarterfinal Draw

June 10: Possible Round of 16

June 23-24: Potential Round of 16 or Quarterfinals

July 14-15: Potential Quarterfinals or Semifinals

Aug. 11-12: Potential Semifinals or Final

Sept. 22-24: Possible Final