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Unclear if Sounders will participate in scaled down U.S. Open Cup

“Everything is on the table” when it comes to planning and executing a smaller U.S. Open Cup this spring and summer

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

“Everything is on the table.”

Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup commissioner Paul Marstaller stated to Sports Illustrated that organizers are going into the tournament with an open mind in regard to executing and planning the tournament this summer. Last year, the tournament was cancelled for the first time in 106 years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the still-undecided possibilities are how teams will be selected to participate. Like everything else due to the pandemic, the tournament will be altered and smaller. Only 24 teams will be selected to participate in the tournament, with eight coming from MLS. In 2019, all 21 U.S.-based MLS teams competed.

Options for selecting teams includes looking at 2020 end-of-the-year standings, a randomized (or blind) draw or a combination of the two, according to Marstaller.

If the U.S. Open Cup committee elects to use 2020 results, the Sounders would likely qualify for one of the eight spots. At the end of the regular season, Seattle finished in second place in the Western Conference and sixth overall in the entire league.

Seattle went to the MLS Cup Playoffs for a record 12th time in a row and finished the season as runners-up, after falling to the Columbus Crew SC, 3-0, in the MLS Cup Final. The last time the Sounders failed to qualify for the Open Cup was in 2004 when they were a USL team. They’ve won the tournament four times, tied for the most among MLS teams.

Marstaller told Sports Illustrated that in the coming weeks, details will be ironed out for the selection process.

“There are a number of possibilities, and U.S. Soccer will be working with each of the participating leagues to sort out what the best path possible is in each circumstance,” Marstaller said.

In a public release, the U.S. Open Cup stated its plans to begin competition the weekend of May 4-5. There will be five rounds, with the final scheduled for either June 29 or 30.

According to the U.S. Open Cup, usually 101 teams participate in the tournament. The following is a breakdown of how U.S. Soccer leagues will be represented.

  • Open Division: 4
    Could include teams from the fall qualifying tournament in 2019, the 2019 U.S. Adult Soccer Association National Amateur Cup and qualified teams from the NPSL and USL League Two.
  • Division III: 4
    Two teams from the NISA (out of nine clubs) and two teams from USL League One (out of eight clubs).
  • Division II: 8
    Eight clubs from the USL Championship (out of 24 eligible teams).
  • Division I: 8
    Eight clubs, pending selection process.

MLS clubs will not begin participating in the Open Cup until the Round of 16. Each club would face one of the eight Opening Round victors.

A full list of eligible teams can be found here.

In addition to the tournament announcement, Marstaller stated to Sports Illustrated that the tournament could be cancelled if COVID-19 pandemic safety measures could not be met.

“If on April 19, the conditions [to play] are still not in place, we will concede to Mother Nature and begin planning for 2022,” Marstaller said, adding that there is “really no room” to postpone matches or the tournament, due to already busy league schedules.

Potential Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Timeline

  • March 31: Opening Round matches announced
  • April 21 or 28: Round of 16 (Quarterfinal) Draw
  • May 4-5: Opening Round
  • May 18-19: Round of 16
  • May 25-26: Quarterfinals
  • June 15-16: Semifinals
  • June 29-30: U.S. Open Cup Final

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