Major League Soccer has officially announced that their first teams will not participate in the 2024 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

In a press release sent out on Friday, the league stated that the decision came down to a vote by the team owners. As a result, teams will instead send their division-three MLS NEXT Pro sides to participate in the competition.

MLS execs claimed that the choice was made to give younger players an opportunity in the competition and help ease scheduling.

“This decision will provide emerging professional players with additional opportunities for meaningful competition. The move also benefits the MLS regular season by reducing schedule congestion, freeing up to six-midweek match dates,” the league wrote in the statement.

Despite pulling out of the U.S. Open Cup, MLS’s statement also bizarrely included that they are “committed to working with U.S. Soccer to evolve and elevate the Open Cup for everyone involved in the years ahead.”

US Open Cup has given smaller clubs rare opportunities in the past

The move has essentially sent shockwaves through the American soccer community. After all, the U.S. Open Cup is the country’s oldest ongoing national soccer competition. In fact, the tournament was introduced way back in 1914 as the National Challenge Cup. The competition predates MLS by over 80 years.

Reaction to the move has been overwhelmingly negative, from media members, fans, and just about everyone associated with the game in the US.

The U.S. Open Cup regularly features around 100 teams each season. All professional soccer teams compete in the tournament, as well as some qualifying amateur clubs as well.

Many soccer fans Stateside love the competition, as it gives smaller clubs a rare opportunity to play the big boys. MLS does not have promotion and relegation in place. Instead, the top flight consists of the same teams year in and year out. This made MLS clubs playing in the U.S. Open Cup a little more exciting and unique for the fans. Smaller teams also cherished facing top international stars such as Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets.

MLS may have violated official US Soccer rules

The decision to back out of the competition may also violate USSF’s own Pro League Standards. The laws, which were updated in March of this year, state that Division 1 (MLS) teams essentially have to participate in the U.S. Open Cup.

Page nine of the lengthy general requirements of American soccer clubs clearly states that: “U.S.-based teams must participate in all representative U.S. Soccer and CONCACAF competitions for which they are eligible.”

It remains to be seen if the USSF will stick to their guns regarding the official rule book. Nevertheless, the governing body of soccer in the United States revealed that they were not informed of the decision until the vote passed on Friday evening.

“Major League Soccer notified U.S. Soccer today of their vote regarding the 2024 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup,” read a statement from USSF. “Our staff is currently reviewing. U.S. Soccer and our members remain committed to the success of the historic U.S. Open Cup and look forward to engaging with all our stakeholders on the future of the tournament.”

There were, however, recent signs that MLS teams were not exactly thrilled about playing in the U.S. Open Cup. Commissioner Don Garber previously criticized the quality of play in the competition in May.

A month later, Major League Soccer Players Association executive director Bob Foose claimed that top-flight players don’t look forward to playing U.S. Open Cup matches.

Photo credits: IMAGO / Icon Sportswire