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MLS is back in the U.S. Open Cup, but not every club will participate

MLS is back in the U.S. Open Cup, but not every club will participate

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

MLS will participate in the U.S. Open Cup, after all, but with a softer imprint.

In an announcement Friday, the U.S. Soccer Federation unveiled revised plans for MLS’s participation in the 2024 national tournament, whose status was muddled this winter when the league attempted to send developmental squads instead of first teams.

In a compromise, eight of MLS’s 26 U.S.-based teams will enter the 96-team competition and nine others will use their developmental squads from the third division, known as MLS Next Pro.

That leaves nine MLS organizations without a presence, including D.C. United, a three-time tournament champion.

United’s first team was left out because of its low finish in the 2023 MLS season. United is also the only U.S.-based MLS club without an MLS Next Pro team. It no longer is the majority owner of second-division Loudoun United, which will take part in the Open Cup.

“We absolutely wanted to participate,” D.C. Coach Troy Lesesne said.

MLS and USSF officials said they will continue to work toward long-term solutions for the tournament, but it remains unclear whether all MLS first teams will return to full participation next year.

Modeled after the English FA Cup, the 110-year-old U.S. Open Cup involves teams from amateurs to the pros in a single-elimination tournament running concurrently with league seasons. It is administered by the USSF, the sport’s national governing body, which says the competition is the world’s third-longest continuously run national cup tournament.

“I’m glad [the USSF] has been able to format the tournament in a way that is satisfactory,” MLS executive vice president Nelson Rodriguez said. “The Open Cup could — and should — evolve into a state that would be a better experience for everyone.”

MLS has grumbled about the event for years, griping about the financial strain, schedule congestion and demand on players. The league, though, created its own congestion last year by launching the Leagues Cup, featuring all 47 MLS and Mexican Liga MX teams. To accommodate it, MLS pauses the regular season for a month. Unlike the Open Cup, MLS (and Liga MX) controls revenue and TV rights.

This winter, the USSF rejected MLS’s application to send MLS Next Pro teams. MLS’s pivot also seemed to violate USSF’s sanctioning requirements that leagues participate in the Open Cup.

Stripping of sanctioning “never once came up” in recent talks with the USSF, Rodriguez said.

MLS and the USSF did not go into great detail about the financial changes, but the USSF said it will make “its largest-ever investment in the tournament … to enhance financial incentives for participating teams, including significantly increased travel reimbursement,” and increase promotion of the tournament.

To ease scheduling demands, only one MLS team competing in the Concacaf Champions Cup — an international tournament taking place early this year — will also enter the U.S. Open Cup: defending USOC champion Houston.

Other MLS teams competing in the Open Cup, starting in the round of 32 in early May, are Atlanta, Dallas, Kansas City, Los Angeles FC, Real Salt Lake, San Jose and Seattle. MLS Next Pro teams, who will start in the first round this month, represent Austin, Chicago, Charlotte, Colorado, Minnesota, L.A. Galaxy, New York City FC, New York Red Bulls and Portland.

“I love the idea of [the U.S. Open Cup], but I do think it has needed improvement for many, many years,” Kansas City Coach Peter Vermes said. “Would it be great that everybody has the ability to participate in it? Sure. But right now, it’s the right decision based on the congestion of our schedule.”

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