The U.S. Soccer Federation announced on Thursday a range of changes to the 2020 edition of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, including a markedly earlier start to the tournament, longer breaks between rounds and an earlier entry in the bracket for 11 MLS teams.
Described as the first “major restructuring” of the 107-year old competition since 2012, the updates will lead to more matches between MLS and lower-division teams, thus increasing the prospects of the “Cupsets” that make the tournament so compelling to so many fans.
With the first round set to kick off on March 24 – the earliest start date in the modern era – participants will have at least two weeks between rounds, allowing home clubs more time to sell tickets and giving away teams greater flexibility in arranging travel. The cup final will take place in the Sept. 22-24 window.
All eligible professional teams from the second- and third-division levels (the USL Championship, USL League One and NISA) will enter the Open Cup in the second round, while those from the “Open Division” – which includes amateur, semipro and all other teams from outside MLS, the USL Championship, USL League One and NISA – will begin in the first round.
The bottom 11 US-based MLS teams in the previous season’s standings will enter in the third round. For 2020 that group will be Chicago Fire FC, Colorado Rapids, Columbus Crew SC, FC Cincinnati, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, Inter Miami CF, Nashville SC, Orlando City SC, San Jose Earthquakes and Sporting Kansas City.
The top 12 US-based teams in the previous season’s standings – which will include the four US entrants to the 2020 Concacaf Champions League and the next four best American regular-season finishers in each of the league’s Eastern and Western Conferences – will then enter in the following round, the Round of 32 (formerly known as the fourth round).
In 2020 that group includes defending Open Cup champions Atlanta United, D.C. United, LAFC, LA Galaxy, Minnesota United FC, New England Revolution, New York City FC, New York Red Bulls, Philadelphia Union, Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake and Seattle Sounders FC.
The method for determining pairings for each round, and the number of berths allocated to the entrants from the semipro competitions NPSL and USL League Two, will be decided by the Open Cup Committee after the pro team confirmation deadline on Dec. 31, and announced in early January. ESPN+ will continue to stream all Open Cup action as it enters the second year of a four-year broadcasting deal with the tournament.
The 2020 Open Cup winner will earn $300,000 in prize money, a berth in the 2021 CCL and have their name engraved on the Dewar Challenge Trophy, one of the oldest nationally-contested trophies in American team sports, now on permanent display at the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Frisco, Texas. The runner-up will earn $100,000, while the team that advances the furthest from each lower division will take home a $25,000 cash prize.