2021 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup to feature shortened field as pandemic lingers

U.S. Open Cup - anthem - trophy

A compressed and shortened Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup awaits in 2021 after the domestic tournament was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Soccer announced Tuesday following a meeting by the Open Cup Committee earlier in February.

May to June Schedule

This year’s Open Cup will involve 24 teams that play five rounds from May 4-5 through the final June 29-30. The tournament normally has 104 teams and eight rounds, though that's deemed not feasible for the 107th edition. 

The Opening Round of the Open Cup could still be canceled, with U.S. Soccer setting a date of March 29 to determine if conditions allow it to take place. If those conditions are not met, the Committee will next review have a review on April 19 to determine whether the Open Cup may begin with the Round of 16 on May 18-19.

“As we looked at our scheduling options, the Open Cup Committee first prioritized the health and safety of the players and decided against scheduling matches in both March and April due to the ongoing circumstances with the COVID-19 pandemic,” U.S. Open Cup Commissioner Paul Marstaller said in a release. “We also took into consideration the extended June FIFA window and the Concacaf Gold Cup taking place through August 1, along with the semifinal and final rounds of the 2021 Concacaf Champions League being scheduled in the fall.

“In the end, we all felt a shortened version for this year was the best format, and we’re excited to have the opportunity to crown a champion after not being able to in 2020.”

Who makes it

Opening Round

  • Eight USL Championship teams
  • Four Open Division teams
  • Two USL League One teams
  • Two NISA teams

Round of 16

  • Eight Opening Round winners
  • Eight MLS teams (not yet determined)

The 24 qualifiers still need to be selected and will be announced in the coming weeks, per U.S. Soccer. Normally all 24 American MLS teams would enter, though now only one-third will gain entry.

If the Opening Round can't be played and the Open Cup begins with the Round of 16 instead, two Open Division teams, two USL League One/NISA teams (one each) and four USL Championship teams would be allocated. They'd join the eight MLS sides. 

When games begin

Here’s the full rundown on the various stages, which allow the Open Cup to resume after its 106-year streak ended upon the event's cancelation in August 2020. The winner gains an automatic spot in the 2022 Concacaf Champions League.

  • March 29 – Date for confirming Opening Round
  • March 31 – Opening Round matchups announced
  • April 19 – Date for confirming Round of 16
  • April 21 or 28 – Round of 16/Quarterfinal Draw (held earlier if Opening Round is not played)
  • May 4-5 – Opening Round (16 teams total)
  • May 18-19 – Round of 16 (8 MLS teams vs. 8 winners from Opening Round)
  • May 25-26 – Quarterfinals
  • June 15-16 – Semifinals
  • June 29 or 30 – Final

MLS success

The Open Cup was last contested in 2019, with Atlanta United beating Minnesota United 2-1 in that final. That victory gave Atlanta a spot in the 2021 CCL tournament.

An MLS team has won every Open Cup since 2000, with Chicago Fire FC, Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City all tied with four trophies. D.C. United has three Open Cup titles, while FC Dallas and LA Galaxy have two apiece.