The previously scaled back and then delayed U.S. Open Cup has been canceled for 2021, U.S. Soccer announced on Tuesday. After 106 straight years of holding the event — which made it the second-longest streak in world soccer — this is the second straight year that the Covid-19 pandemic has forced the tournament’s cancellation. U.S. Soccer has vowed to bring it back next year with a revamped format and its biggest-ever field of participating teams.
Among the changes:
- A revised format that will see approximately half of the 25 eligible MLS teams enter in the Third Round, one round earlier than in previous years. This move increases the number of matches across multiple rounds between Division I clubs and those from lower divisions; it also increases the opportunity (from 11 in 2019) for lower-division clubs to reach the Round of 32.
- An expanded tournament calendar that will allow rounds to take place at least two weeks apart, providing additional time for home teams to market and sell tickets and for visiting clubs to lower costs by arranging travel earlier. In 2019, only one week separated the First and Second Rounds, as well as the Rounds of 32 and 16.
- Matches featuring MLS and USL teams will all take place outside FIFA windows, ensuring that the best talent is available.
The one big outstanding issue is what will happen to the 2022 Concacaf Champions League spot that was due to go to the winner. Atlanta United was awarded the 2021 CCL spot as the reigning champions from 2019, but that was an awkward decision at the time and it would be even more baffling if they were to receive the spot again. Other possibilities could be to give it to the best finisher who doesn’t already qualify from MLS, the MLS team who finishes highest in Leagues Cup, the winner of the USL Championship, or, maybe even the winner of a playoff between an MLS and USL Championship representative.
For the Sounders, news of the tournament’s cancellation probably comes as a bit of a relief as they are already committed to playing in the Leagues Cup and could hardly afford further schedule congestion.