Monday, January 29, 2007

2007 US Open Cup is set

US Soccer has announced the schedule for the 93rd annual US Open Cup. The big change for this season, fewer teams. The reason for the change, the busy summer schedule for the US national team and MLS.

For the first time since 2002, not all MLS teams will be in the tournament. Instead, they will automatically qualify the top six teams from the 2006 season (Chicago Fire, Chivas USA, D.C. United, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, New England Revolution). The other six US teams will play qualifying matches. The Columbus Crew, Kansas City Wizards, Real Salt Lake and Los Angeles Galaxy will play in the first qualifying round, with the winners facing the New York Red Bulls and Colorado Rapids for a chance to qualify for the tournament.

All 10 US based USL-First Division teams will qualify. These teams are the Atlanta Silverbacks, California Victory, Carolina RailHawks, Charleston Battery, Miami FC, Minnesota Thunder, Portland Timbers, Rochester Raging Rhinos, Seattle Sounders, Virginia Beach Mariners.

Six USL-Second Division teams will also qualify, however only the champion Richmond Kickers will earn an automatic spot. The other teams (Cincinnati Kings, Charlotte Eagles, Cleveland City Stars, Crystal Palace Baltimore, Harrisburg City Islanders, New Hampshire Phantoms, Western Mass Pioneers, Wilmington Hammerheads) will play qualification matches.

Of the 60 Premier Development League teams eligible, 8 will earn qualification. There will also be 8 teams from the U.S. Adult Soccer Association Regional Qualifiers.

Here are the important dates:
May 28 - Qualifying Deadline
May 29 - First Round Pairings Announced
June 12 - First Round - All 32 lower division teams enter tournament
June 26 - Second Round - Round 1 winners face off
July 10 - Third Round - Round 2 winners face eight MLS teams
Aug. 7 - Quarterfinals - Round 3 winners
Sept. 4 - Semifinals - Quarterfinal winners
Oct. 2 - Final - Semifinal winners

As sorry as I am to see fewer MLS teams in the Open Cup, I am happy to know that they are basing qualification standards on the 2006 results. Basing rewards on the ability of the team to play well might seem like a simple idea, but it has not always been the case for soccer in the US.

I just hope they will continue these smart ideas by having the third round be an open draw. There will be 16 teams in the third round with eight of them being from the MLS. It would be really weak if they seeded teams as to prevent two MLS sides from playing in that round. Have an open draw where any of the remaining 16 can play and they will really be on to something.

And what about some prize money? Well, the team that advances the furthest from each level except Division I earns a $10,000 cash prize. The runner-up takes home $50,000, while the champion collects $100,000.

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