The already scaled-down U.S. Open Cup will be even skinnier than previously planned in 2021. Originally planned to feature 32 teams, U.S. Soccer announced on Monday that the Opening Round was being eliminated and that eight MLS teams would be joined by eight lower-division teams in an opening Round of 16.
Those eight MLS teams will be selected based on the regular-season standings after three weeks of competition. Although most teams will have played three games at that point, at least two eligible teams — Real Salt Lake and the Columbus Crew — will have only played two. To account for that discrepancy, the eight Open Cup spots will be determined by points per game rather than raw points.
The 16 teams will be split into four regional groups consisting of two MLS teams and two lower-division teams. In situations where there’s not an obvious four-team grouping with those parameters, random selection will be used. The new format will at least guarantee that there are no intra-league matches in the first round.
The Round of 16 draw will be held on May 4 to determine the exact pairings of the first round, as well as hosting priority in the quarterfinals, while setting the bracket for the remainder of the tournament.