May is just around the corner, and that means it's time for another edition of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup – the 100th edition, no less.
The Open Cup, a one-off knockout tournament similar to England's FA Cup, is one of the oldest institutions in American soccer, dating back to its first edition in 1913. It pits amateur and professional teams alike, with plenty at stake – namely prize money, a coveted berth in the CONCACAF Champions League and a permanent place in US soccer history.
All 34 US-based professional soccer teams currently competing in North America's top three leagues will be taking part – 16 MLS teams, six teams from the second-tier North American Soccer League (NASL) and 12 teams from the third-division USL PRO.
Joining the professional outfits will be another 34 amateur teams, culled from the fourth-tier USL Premier Development League (PDL) and National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), as well as other amateur organizations, including the US Adult Soccer Association, US Club Soccer and the US Specialty Sports Association. The field of 68 teams was finally set this past weekend (via TheCup.us) as amateur qualification tournaments wrapped up, with a four-team play-in slated for May 7 and the first round set to kick off one week later.
And though MLS teams will not enter until the third round, currently set for May 28, there will be plenty of reasons to keep an eye on the early rounds of the tournament.
For one, three MLS teams have also seen their U-23 sides qualify for the tournament – the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers from the PDL and the New York Red Bulls from the NPSL. So, if you're a fan looking for the next Homegrown star – Seattle's DeAndre Yedlin and New York's Connor Lade both spent time with their respective U-23 sides – these teams, loaded with college and academy talent, would be a good place to start.
Let's not forget the USL PRO, either, with five teams from that league boasting affiliations with MLS teams that have yielded a total of 18 players on loan spread across those five rosters – Orlando City SC (Sporting KC), Harrisburg City Islanders (Philadelphia Union), Richmond Kickers (D.C. United), Los Angeles Blues (Chivas USA – no affiliate agreement, but players on loan) and Rochester Rhinos (New England Revolution).
With PDL and NPSL teams entering the tournament in the first round, set for May 14 and most USL PRO teams (including all MLS affiliates) entering in the second round, set for May 21, plus a host of other amateur teams seeking to emulate Cal FC's magical 2012 run, even the early rounds of the Cup should provide some compelling storylines.
Be sure to check back throughout the month and into the summer (the final is slated for Oct. 1 or 2) for all the latest news from MLSsoccer.com regarding the Open Cup, and happy watching!