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Big changes coming to U.S. Open Cup

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Sounders are 1 of 8 MLS teams who receive a bye into Round of 32.

2014 U.S. Open Cup - Final Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

After two consecutive years of the Covid-19 pandemic effectively canceling the U.S. Open Cup, the country’s oldest soccer tournament plans to return in 2022 with several significant changes that had previously been approved but so far gone unimplemented.

The most relevant of those changes is that the Seattle Sounders will be 1 of 8 MLS teams who receive a bye into the Round of 32. The other 17 eligible MLS teams will enter a round earlier. Combined, those changes are designed to increase the number of matches between MLS and lower-division opponents.

All Division II and III teams will enter in the second round, one round before any MLS teams enter. Among those teams will be two from MLS Next Pro, Rochester FC and St. Louis City SC. As was the case in previous seasons, lower-division teams majority-owned by MLS teams are not eligible to compete in the Open Cup. St. Louis City SC’s MLS Next Pro team is entered because they are the highest level of team within the organization whose MLS team starts play in 2023.

Ballard FC will begin qualification for the 2023 U.S. Open Cup via their 2022 USL League 2 season.

If the Sounders were to make the final, they’d add five games to their schedule. That’s the same number they played on the way to the 2012 and 2014 finals, but one more than they needed to play in 2010-11. In 2009, they played four matches in the main tournament but also had to play two play-in matches against MLS opponents.

The Sounders remain tied with the Chicago Fire for most U.S. Open Cup titles (4) during the MLS era. Bethlehem Steel and Maccabee Los Angeles both won it five times during previous eras.


Jan. 6: Open Division berth allocation announced

March 22-23: First Round (Open Division teams enter)

April 5-7: Second Round (Division II and III teams enter)

April 19-21: Third Round (17 Division I teams enter)

May 10-11: Round of 32 (remaining 8 Division I teams enter)

May 24-25: Round of 16

June 21-22: Quarterfinals

July 26-27: Semifinals

Sept. 6-7 or 13-14: Final