When the U.S. Open Cup was canceled by US Soccer for a second consecutive year, the Concacaf Champions League berth that typically is awarded to the winner was left up in the air. US Soccer has made a determination on how to award it for the 2022 edition of the tournament, and it’s already ruffling a few lower-division feathers.
Effectively shutting out lower-division sides from potential qualification, US Soccer has decided to award the final CCL spot to an MLS team based on its regular season performance, according to a report from Sports Illustrated. A source with US Soccer declined to elaborate but said an announcement is expected Tuesday.
MLS was already awarded three of four of the federation’s berths, with another allocated to the winner of the Canadian Championship. The U.S. Open Cup is the only avenue for U.S.-based teams not in MLS to potentially qualify. With the cancellation of the 2020 USOC, the Federation opted to award it to the 2019 winner — Atlanta United. That decision, while lightly mocked, did not register any serious complaints given the state of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the fact that there was no truly viable option to otherwise handle the situation, given the lower-division leagues did not complete their seasons.
This time around, the USL and NISA are operating full schedules, which could in theory allow them to send a suitably viable champion to the tournament. According to the SI report, Concacaf had little interest in awarding the slot to a lower-division side. With that constraint in place, there were few options for US Soccer, but to award the final berth to MLS, with the Federation deciding that regular-season performance should be the determining factor as opposed to playoff performance.
Notably, the only North American lower-division team to qualify was the 2008 Montreal Impact, who won the Canadian Championship. A lower-division team has not won the U.S. Open Cup since the Rochester Rhinos won it in 1999, about a decade before the modern CCL began.
The four 2022 SCCL bids controlled by US Soccer will be awarded as follows:
- MLS Cup champion
- MLS Supporters’ Shield winner
- First place team in MLS conference opposite the Shield winner
- Next-best MLS regular season record (in lieu of U.S. Open Cup winner)
That redounds to the benefit of the Seattle Sounders, as it opens another path to qualify for Champions League in 2022. With their chances at the Supporters’ Shield tenuous at the moment, the next-best record allocation means the Sounders do not necessarily need to win MLS Cup or even place at the top of the Western Conference to receive a bid to the tournament. And if a team — say New England — wins the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup, it would open additional opportunities for the Sounders to qualify.
US Soccer is expected to revert back to its qualification procedures— prior to the Covid-19 pandemic canceling the USOC — for the 2022 season going forward.