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US Soccer creates more ‘David v Goliath’ matches in US Open Cup restructure

Atlanta United FC celebrate winning the 2019 US Open Cup (Credit: Getty Images)

The United States Soccer Federation has announced a series of revamps to the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, including a significantly earlier start to the domestic knockout tournament, and an earlier entrance for 11 Major League Soccer teams.

Previously, MLS clubs did not enter the competition until the fourth round. However, as part of the restructure, the 11 lowest-ranked US-based teams in the league standings will instead begin their journey in the third round. In 2020, including new expansion teams, they are: Chicago Fire FC, Colorado Rapids, Columbus Crew SC, FC Cincinnati, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, Inter Miami CF, Nashville SC, Orlando City SC, San Jose Earthquakes, and Sporting Kansas City.

The top 12 US-based teams in the previous season’s standings – which will include the four US entrants to the 2020 Concacaf Champions League and the next four best American regular-season finishers in each of the league’s Eastern and Western Conferences – will enter in the following round.

The professional Division II and Division III sides – which includes teams from the USL Championship, USL League One and the National Independent Soccer Association – will enter in the second round. Eligible clubs outside of these divisions will start in the first round.

These changes will in turn increase the number of “David v Goliath” games between MLS sides and those in the lower divisions, potentially providing more upsets and excitement for fans.

The first round will also begin on March 24-25, 2020, the earliest start in competition history since 1995. This schedule change enables longer breaks between rounds, with a minimum of two weeks between matches. According to US Soccer, this move will provide “additional time for home teams to market and sell tickets and for visiting clubs to arrange travel earlier at lower cost.”

For the second consecutive year, as part of a four year broadcast agreement, ESPN+ will stream all US Open Cup games.

Elsewhere, Philadelphia Union’s USL Championship affiliate team Bethlehem Steel FC will be rebranded Philadelphia Union II.