The World Cup starts on Thursday, but MLS teams will be kicking off a cup of their own one day earlier when the fourth round of the 2014 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup begins.
This year's tournament will be the 101st edition of the longest-running competition in American soccer, a knockout competition similar to England's FA Cup and open to teams all across the American soccer pyramid, from the amateur ranks all the way up to MLS.
The format makes for some compelling games as lower-league teams from across the country attempt (sometimes successfully) to knock off MLS teams and MLS rivalries play out in new, dramatic ways. Despite some deep runs, however, no lower-league team has won the tournament since the Rochester Rhinos in 1999.
Over the past month, teams from the NASL, USL PRO, USL Premier Development League (PDL), National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) and three other amateur leagues have whittled themselves to a field of 16 to take on the 16 US-based MLS teams (Canada has its own championship, which wrapped up last week).
The tournament is a big deal, not only because of its history and the opportunities for silverware and bragging rights, but because it also guarantees a berth in the 2015-16 CONCACAF Champions League to whichever team wins it.
Speaking of winners, the Seattle Sounders have been one of the most successful teams in the tournament in recent history, winning a three-peat of titles from 2009-11. In the last two years, though, the Eastern Conference has had something to say about that, as Sporting Kansas City beat the Sounders to capture the cup in 2012 and D.C. United upset Real Salt Lake (above) to win some unlikely silverware in 2013.
This time around, the 16 winners from the fourth round, which will take place from June 11-18, will move on to play in the fifth round on June 24-25. The quarterfinals will be on July 8-9, the semifinals on August 12-13, and the final will be on either Sept. 30 or Oct. 1. Most games will be streamed online – check back prior to each match for streaming details.
So buckle up and stay tuned to MLSsoccer.com throughout the next few months, as we will keep you covered with previews, live match coverage and all the latest headlines from the 101st Lamar Hunt US Open Cup!