For the first time in 106 years, the U.S. Open Cup will not crown a new champion, it was formally announced on Monday. The only national soccer champion that had been awarded for a longer continuous period of time is Northern Ireland’s Irish Cup, which crowned a 2019-20 champion on July 31 and dates itself to 1881.
The 2020 tournament had been scheduled to start on March 24, a little less than two weeks after most sports across the globe were put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. U.S. Soccer had apparently held out some hope that the tournament would be able to continue in some fashion but that became a near logistical impossibility as the pandemic stretched into its sixth month.
Although MLS has resumed play along with most of the other U.S.-based leagues, the challenges the U.S. Open Cup faces were unique. The full field featured 100 different teams from all over the country, the vast majority of which were either amateur or had very limited resources. Even in normal times, the tournament is a logistical challenge between travel and scheduling. Coordinating all that during a pandemic, while MLS is still figuring out its own schedule, would have been impossible. Likewise, hosting a single-site tournament would have been a logistical mess at that scale and pairing it down to a level that might make such a format feasible would render the “open” nature of the competition moot.
The biggest remaining question is what will become of the Concacaf Champions League berth that was on the line. Although 23 of the last 24 spots have gone to MLS teams, the berth technically belongs to U.S. Soccer. One seemingly feasible solution could pit the various champions of the lower-tier professional soccer leagues against the top MLS team to not quality for the CCL through other means in a single-site tournament some time after MLS Cup.