The Impact Of Lower Level Growth On The US Open Cup
This website tends to focus on certain moments or problems that happen in the top tier of professional US Club soccer. Sometimes we accidently ignore the great strides that are being made by the lower levels, and it’s evident from this past NSCAA convention in Indianapolis, Indiana that these strides are profound.
Starting this season, we will see two new sides entering the third division in the USL Pro League. The Phoenix Wolves and Tampa Bay Flames begin play, and in the Second Division North American Soccer League the New York Cosmos will land in their fall half-season.
But the best news is that even more clubs will be entering NASL in 2014. Not only will we see another Canadian side open their doors in Ottawa, but two new US squads take the pitch in Loudon County, Virginia and Indianapolis. The latter team was spearheaded by former Chicago Fire General Manager Peter Wilt. We’d be remiss not to mention Sacramento, who will be entering USL-Pro in 2014.
We are seeing great strides in the advancement of the game and the fan culture is getting better and better as the years pass. US Soccer should be feeling good about these moments and maybe we can see more happening down the road.
The one thing that has me concerned about US Professional Club soccer relates to the tournament that will be playing in its 100th edition this season – the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
Last season we saw great changes that allowed qualifying to end in the professional levels as well as the PDL. This allowed most of the sides to automatically go in as well as finishing a season for automatic availability. In 2012, there were many upsets from Round 1 all the way to the Semi-Finals, which was a great display for this historic Cup competition.
But there is some concern that these changes might slightly go away as qualifying might return to the second and or third divisions, using regular season matches that double as US Open Cup Qualifiers. I think a new proposal should be made to expand the participants from the amateur leagues to the newer sides in the NASL & USL Pro league.
A grand total of 52 sides start in the first round from the PDL (22), NPSL (22) and USASA (8) face each other in Round 1 Proper with the winners advancing to Round 2. Most of the sides that achieved victory in Round 1 will face each other in Round 2, with the exception of the extra sides coming from the second and third divisions
Since the New York Cosmos will not participate in the US Open Cup this year as they will start in the fall season of the NASL, a pre-season tournament between them, Loudon County, VA. & Indianapolis should determine which two sides should enter Round 3 and the other in Round 2 while Sacramento and the bottom four of the 2013 standings will enter Round 2.
The rest of the NASL & USL Pro League will face Round 2 Winners, and then MLS Sides in Round 4 and the round of 16 will be added to Round 5. Then you’d see normal brackets from the Quarterfinals to the Final. We are progressing as a nation that loves the world’s game and it’s showing by the supporters groups that are created for a club at any level.
Progress continues to build for the game and progress has been shown on different levels within our leagues and for the US Open Cup. In 2014 we will celebrate 100 Years of the US Open Cup and to avoid qualifiers to return, I would suggest adding a 5th round next season to make this cup competition more exciting than it already has been for the last several years.