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Fewer Clubs Might Be The Answer To Prevent Cupset 2021, How 24 Clubs May Be Invited

By Chris Walker | (Logo Courtesy of U.S. Soccer)

Great news! The Lamar Hunt Open Cup Tournament is tentatively back for 2021. Right now, discussions are being held about the competition. The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) say it would run from May 4-5 through to the final on June 29-30.

Again, this is tentative. It’s still exciting if you like the competition. There are definitely some modifications to it, which are covered in this article.

Brian Straus gives us the full extent of this information in a story he wrote in Sports Illustrated titled “U.S. Soccer’s plans for an Abbreviated 2021 U.S. Open Cup dated February 8, 2021.

I took it a bit further and applied some of my perspectives to what Straus was reporting on to see how it would unfold for New Mexico United fans specifically. I think any football fan wondering about the latest edition of the competition and how their club may fare in the selection stages could still take something away from this article.

During the 2019 season, United advanced to the quarterfinals of the Open Cup defeating MLS side Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas before being defeated 6-1 by Minnesota United FC at Allianz Field.

U.S. Soccer tells us the 2021 edition of the Lamar Hunt Open Cup is a much more compressed version of the competition, but we think it serves two purposes this way.

One, it ensures that it takes place this year. The Open Cup is a long-standing tradition. The 106-year streak was snapped by officials taking necessary precautions to keep everyone involved safe during the pandemic, as well as, abiding by each state’s mass-gathering policy.

Two, it ups the ante for the lower division clubs that are one of the 16 sides chosen. Imagine New Mexico United is selected by blind draw, which is more favorable than 2020 results for them, they would face another lower-division club in the first round. Then, in the round of 16, they would meet 1 of the 8 MLS sides selected. The next three rounds would shake things up depending on the winners.

One thing is for certain and that’s what accompanies the Open Cup trophy, complimentary rings, and swag product and that is an invite to the 2022 Concacaf Champions League.

The 24 Open Cup qualifiers will come from the MLS, USL Championship, USL League One, NISA, and from among the 36 amateur teams that booked a place in the 2020 tournament. The Open Cup committee will have the ultimate say on who gets in, but there’s mention of criteria for selection being a club’s 2020 league results, a blind draw, or some combination thereof.

Here’s a little more detail of how they plan to select the clubs from each league, as well as, the projection of dates. Keep in mind USL Championship is set to kick off between April 24th and May 15th with some clubs eyeing May 1st as their launch date.

May 4-5 – First Round

Four amateur teams from the Open division comprising USL League Two, NPSL, and local qualifying tournaments (from among 36 eligible 2020 qualifiers)

Four teams from USL League One and NISA (two each)

Eight teams from USL Championship

May 18-19 – Round of 16

Eight teams from MLS

May 25-26 – Quarterfinals

June 15-16 – Semifinals

June 29-30 – Final

We, here at Seek & Strike Collective, discussed alternate models and methods U.S. Soccer could adopt in 2021 to determine the 24 clubs to invite.

First Round

Four amateur teams from the Open division

The 2020 USL League Two, NPSL seasons were canceled, and the local qualifying matches in the Open Division. Since there are no favorable results to select teams, it would make the most sense for this to be determined by a blind draw to select the four teams.

Seek & Strike Criteria Summary

To summarize what I did for the USL League Two, NPSL, and all other amateur teams since seasons/competitions were canceled: straight-up coin tosses.

1. Blind Draw

2. Blind Draw

3. Blind Draw

4. Blind Draw

Four teams from USL League One and NISA (two each)

The 2020 USL League One season with the Final being canceled due to some Union Omaha players being put into Covid protocol. Since Greenville Triumph was the regular-season title winner and Omaha couldn’t play in the Final, the Triumph was crowned Champions. They should be selected for a spot. Omaha finishing as the runner-up should get the other League One spot.

NISA managed to have the 2020 Fall Tournament, which ultimately led to the Championship Final between Detroit City FC and Oakland Roots. Detroit City came out victorious and should have an invite. Oakland Roots “should be the other team,” but they moved to the USL Championship. So they forfeit the spot. LA Force was the top-seed to not progress into the Final. So, they will get the Oakland Roots spot.

Seek & Strike Criteria Summary

To summarize what I did for the USL League One and NISA: 1) Overall Champion 2) Final runner-up, except for NISA, LA Force get it because Oakland Roots is no longer eligible for that bracket. They were selected due to their top-seeding.

Disclaimer: I did not consider win/loss/draw records to determine anything other than to identify my criteria in my summary above this section).

1. Greenville Triumph

2. Union Omaha

3. Detroit City FC

4. Blind Draw (LA Force) (Oakland Roots)

Eight teams from USL Championship

The USL Championship canceled its Final between Phoenix Rising FC and Tampa Bay Rowdies due to Covid protocol. Tampa Bay Rowdies and Phoenix Rising should both earn a spot in the Open Cup tournament for winning the Eastern and Western Conference respectively. The Regular Season Title was won by Reno 1868. Since Reno is no longer a club, their spot should be a blind draw spot. My logic is that all Champions and Title winners should be addressed first.

The next category in the USL that can be addressed is the Conference Final runner-up. In the West, that would be El Paso Locomotive and in the East, that would be Lou City. They would each get a spot. This leaves 3 spots left. Perhaps the easiest way to assign them is post-season progress. It’s 2021 now so the jib-jab about handballs is dead. Reno’s spot will go to blind draw. New Mexico United will receive the other designated Western Conference spot. In the East, St. Louis is now defunct so their spot would be designated as a blind draw spot. That leaves Charleston Battery to claim the other designated spot.

With two spots designated for blind draws, I would flip a coin for it with the teams with number 1 seeding in the quarterfinals finals. I think that’s the last category I would consider. In the West, San Antonio FC grabs the spot. In the East, it’s going to be between Charlotte Independence and Hartford Athletic. Before you move on, flip a coin and comment on the post that grabbed the final spot.

Seek & Strike Criteria Summary

To summarize what I did for the USL Championship: 1) Conference Champion 2) Regular Season Title 3) Conference Final runner-up 4) Post-Season Progress 5) Quarterfinal Seeding (San Antonio got it by default and Hartford/Charlotte will be decided by coin toss).

Disclaimer: I did not consider win/loss/draw records to determine anything other than to identify my criteria in my summary above this section).

1. Tampa Bay Rowdies

2. Phoenix Rising FC

3. Louisville City FC

4. El Paso Locomotive FC

5. New Mexico United

6. Charleston Battery

7. Blind Draw (SAFC) (Reno 1868)

8. Blind Draw (HFD/CLT)(Saint Louis FC)

This is how we implemented 2020 League Results, Blind Draws, and the combination thereof to select the clubs in the First Round.

Here are a couple visuals of random pairings for the First Round. Ideally, a MLS team should be sitting on the next round. There are some limitations to the app’s features.

Round of 16

Eight teams from MLS

The Columbus Crew won the MLS Cup and the Seattle Sounders were the Cup runner-up. They would each earn a spot respectively. Philadelphia Union won the Regular Season Title and so will get the third spot. New England and Minnesota United were the Conference Final runner-ups. Sporting KC and FC Dallas grab the final West Conference spots based upon Post-Season progress. Orlando City SC and Nashville SC will have to flip a coin.

Seek & Strike Criteria Summary

To summarize what I did for the MLS Cup: 1) Cup Champion 2) Cup runner-up 3) Regular Season Title 4) Conference Final runner-up 5) Post-Season Progress

Disclaimer: I did not consider win/loss/draw records to determine anything other than to identify my criteria in my summary above this section).

1. Columbus Crew

2. Seattle Sounders

3. Philadelphia Union

4. Minnesota United

5. New England Revolution

6. Sporting KC

7. Orlando City SC/Nashville SC (coin)

8. FC Dallas

This is how we implemented 2020 League Results, Blind Draws, and the combination thereof to select the clubs in the Round of 16.

We have managed to select 24 clubs for the abbreviated 2021 Lamar Hunt Open Cup Tournament. Outcomes are solely based upon their run of form.

Key Dates Coming Up

On March 29, U.S. Soccer will consider whether or not to move forward with the first 16 games on May 4-5. There is an option to cancel the round and select eight teams to progress to the round of 16.

Then on April 19, the federation will determine whether the round of 16 can be played a month later. If not, the USSF will begin planning for 2022.

We’ll update this as soon as there is new information on this story or based upon what is determined on March 29th.

Reader Question: Should the Open Cup Tournament take place with this abbreviated format or should U.S. Soccer and the Open Cup committee wait until the regular format can return?

(Logo Courtesy of U.S. Soccer)

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