US Open Cup 101: Everything you need to know about the historic tournament

The 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is about to gain some steam.

A year after Sporting Kansas City won their second championship in three years with a 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls in the 2017 final, MLS teams will join this year's edition of the tournament that began with nearly 100 amateur, semi-pro and professional sides.

The single-elimination tournament is contested separately from MLS play, with teams from every level of American soccer eligible to compete.

What is the Open Cup?

Founded in 1914 and currently organized by U.S. Soccer, the Open Cup is the longest-running national soccer competition in the country. The 2018 edition is being contested by 94 clubs from all divisions of American soccer. MLS clubs join in the Fourth Round, where they generally meet teams from American soccer’s lower divisions – NASL, USL and semi-pro and amateur leagues – for a spot in the Round of 16.

The 2018 tournament is the 105th edition of the Open Cup. It officially kicked off in May, when 52 amateur clubs contested the first round. Twenty-two USL teams entered in the second round.

Twelve lover-division teams – nine from USL, along with amateur sides Miami United (National Premier Soccer League), FC Golden State Force (Premier Development League) and NTX Rayados (Texas) — advanced out of the third round to take on MLS teams this Tuesday and Wednesday. Pairings were drawn randomly after teams were divided into geographic groups.

The tournament will continue with the Round of 16 on June 20, the quarterfinals on July 18, the semifinals August 8 and the final September 26.

In the 2017 tourney, the last surviving non-MLS team, USL's FC Cincinnati, fell to the Red Bulls in the semifinals on August 15.

What does the champion win?

Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup trophy

In addition to lifting the U.S. Open Cup trophy and receiving a whole bunch of glory, the 2018 U.S. Open Cup champion will net a berth in the 2019 Concacaf Champions League and pick up $300,000 in prize money (up from $250,000 last year).

The runner-up won’t walk away empty-handed – they’ll grab $100,000 in prize money (up from $60,000). Additionally, the team that advances furthest from each lower division receives $25,000 (up from $15,000).

Who has the most titles?

Bethlehem Steel - 1915

Two teams from the early days of American soccer – Bethlehem Steel FC and Maccabi Los Angeles – are tied for the most titles in Open Cup history, both with five championships.

Sponsored by the Bethlehem Steel corporation, Bethlehem Steel FC were based in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley and won the tournament in 1915, 1916, 1918, 1919 and 1926. Maccabi Los Angeles came had their run of prominence five decades later, winning the Open Cup in 1973, 1975, 1977, 1978 and 1981.

Five clubs have won four titles, including the Chicago FireSeattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City from MLS. The Fire did their damage early in MLS's early years, winning the USOC in 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2006. Seattle won three-straight Open Cup titles immediately after they entered MLS, taking the trophy in 2009, 2010 and 2011 before winning for a fourth time in 2014. SKC won their fourth title last year after wins in 2004, 2012 and 2015.

D.C. United have won three Open Cup titles with their most recent crown coming in 2013, while FC Dallas won their second Open Cup title in 2016. The Rochester Rhinos are the only lower-division side to win the tournament in the MLS era, which they did in 1999.

Why should you care?

Apart from the fact that it’s one of only three trophies available to most US-based MLS teams each year, the U.S. Open Cup is usually wildly entertaining.

Teams from different leagues facing off can make for some interesting matches, and the single-elimination format always produces a few insane contests. Plus, there’s always the potential for a Cinderella run, with amateur clubs taking their best shot against star-studded MLS rosters.

Not insignificantly, the Open Cup is also the shortest route American MLS clubs have to the Concacaf Champions League. If you want continental glory as a fan of a US-based MLS team, the quickest way to get there is to win the Open Cup. 

Stay connected: The all-new, completely redesigned, FREE official MLS app is your best mobile source for scores, news, analysis and highlights. Download:  App Store  |  Google Play