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US Open Cup: It just hits differently for MLS Teams and Fans

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We’re just about a quarter of the way through the 2022 Major League Soccer season and for 13 US-based MLS teams, league play isn’t the only thing on their minds right now.

On the night of May 25, these 13 teams, along with three lower league teams, will battle it out in the round of 16 of the 2022 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, the first staging of the tournament in three years.

US Open Cup Returned Earlier This Year Following Two-Year Hiatus Due to Coronavirus

As with all sports over the past few years, the COVID-19 pandemic forced US Soccer to make alterations to the calendar, with the 2020 and 2021 versions of the US Open Cup being ultimately canceled entirely due to the virus.

US Soccer initially suspended the 2020 version of the US Open Cup in March of 2020 at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in America, before the tournament was canceled outright that August.

Prior to the suspension of play in the 2020 US Open Cup, both MLS and USL previously elected to suspend their respective seasons due to COVID-19 safeguards being put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Upon the cancellation of the 2020 US Open Cup, US Soccer guaranteed that all 100 teams which qualified for the initial tournament field would be invited back for the 2021 US Open Cup, had it been able to be held.

2021 US Open Cup Canceled, Despite Plans For a Reduced Tournament Field

Prior to the US Open Cup being canceled for a second consecutive year, US Soccer had intended to hold a tournament with a reduced field, rather than the 100-team field that the federation guaranteed with the 2020 cancellation.

Initial contingency plans for the scuttled 2021 US Open Cup included a trimmed 24-team field, with the eight first-round winners from football’s lower divisions inside the United States advancing to play eight MLS sides in the round of 16.

New England Revolution and FC Cincinnati played in the US Open Cup on May 11, 2022 at Gillette Stadium.
FOXBOROUGH, MA – MAY 11: Henry Kessler #4 of New England Revolution and Arquimides Ordonez #29 of FC Cincinnati battle for the ball during a U.S. Open Cup game between FC Cincinnati and New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium on May 11, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Andrew Katsampes/ISI Photos/Getty Images).

These cancellations marked the first and second times, respectively, that the US Open Cup was called off entirely for any reason.

Not even World War I or World War II stopped the US Open Cup in the 20th century, but the tournament was disrupted between 1918 and 1920 due to the Spanish flu outbreak.

New US Open Cup Champion To Be Crowned in 2022

With the US Open Cup canceled for two consecutive years, US Soccer affirmed that the tournament would return for its 107th staging in 2022, with an expanded field of 103 clubs.

Over the last two months, 87 of the original 103 teams have been sent back to league play, including the US Open Cup’s most recent champion.

On the night of May 11, during the Round of 32 in the US Open Cup, 2019 champion Atlanta United FC was eliminated from the US Open Cup by Nashville SC, which just opened its new home stadium, Geodis Park, 3-2 after extra time in the third-ever home match on the grounds.

After almost 1,000 days, Atlanta United had been unseated as US Open Cup champions, and this year’s version of the tournament will end with a new champion being crowned.

So, with the tournament down to its final 16 teams, the famous question from former WCW World Heavyweight Champion Bill Goldberg beckons:

Who’s Next?… To Win US Open Cup

Out of the 16 remaining teams in this year’s US Open Cup, 13 are MLS teams, with five of the eight matches in this round being all-MLS ties.

The following is the schedule for the Round of 16 in the 2022 US Open Cup: (Note: All games in the round of 16 of the US Open Cup will be played on the evening of May 25, and all start times correspond to the United States Eastern time zone.)

  • Orlando City SC vs. Inter Miami CF (7 pm ET, MLS vs. MLS)
  • Louisville City FC vs. Nashville SC (7 pm ET, USL Championship vs. MLS)
  • New York City FC vs. New England Revolution (7:30 pm ET, MLS vs. MLS)
  • New York Red Bulls vs. Charlotte FC (8 pm ET, MLS vs. MLS)
  • Minnesota United FC vs. Union Omaha (8 pm ET, MLS vs. USL League One)
  • Sporting Kansas City vs. Houston Dynamo FC (8:30 pm ET, MLS vs. MLS)
  • Sacramento Republic FC vs. San Jose Earthquakes (10:30 pm ET, USL Championship vs. MLS)
  • Los Angeles Football Club vs. LA Galaxy (10:30 pm ET, MLS vs. MLS, El Trafico)

That LAFC vs. LA Galaxy match to close out the evening’s activities in the round of 16 of the US Open Cup is particularly noteworthy in that it’s the first playing of the El Trafico rivalry to take place outside of league play in MLS.

With the defending champions being eliminated in the Round of 32, it’s essentially open season in the US Open Cup, but at the same time, this tournament isn’t something to be taken lightly by MLS sides.

US Open Cup Creates Excitement, Upsets

With the US Open Cup pitting sides from different levels of the sport of football, it creates the possibility that any match in the tournament could spring an upset, or, more accurately, a “Cupset,” something that’s already taken place a few times earlier this year after MLS teams entered the field.

A third-round match on April 19 between Columbus Crew SC of MLS and Detroit City FC of the USL Championship saw Columbus open the scoring with a seventh-minute tally by Gyasi Zardes (in his final appearance for the Crew before being traded to the Colorado Rapids the following Friday) before Detroit stormed back in the second half with a brace by Maxi Rodriguez to eliminate their Ohio rivals.

Union Omaha completed a Cupset of its own the same evening when 120 minutes of action still wasn’t enough to decide its third-round cup tie against MLS side Chicago Fire FC, ending the game level at 2-2 after extra time.

Omaha then eliminated Chicago on penalties, 5-4 to kick off its run in the US Open Cup.

US Open Cup a Different Feel Than the MLS Regular Season

A tournament format is always exciting in American sports for the simple reason that there’s a sense of uncertainty for both teams heading into each game.

The winner advances to the next round, while the loser is left to pack up and think of what may have been.

Sporting Kansas City and FC Dallas played each other in the US Open Cup on May 10, 2022 at Children's Mercy Park.
KANSAS CITY, KANSAS – MAY 10: Ben Sweat #2 of Sporting Kansas City takes a header above Nanú #31 of FC Dallas during the second half of their match in the Round of 32 of the 2022 U.S. Open Cup at Children’s Mercy Park on May 10, 2022 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)

It’s one of the reasons why single-game playoffs are so popular inside the United States, and one needs to look no further than March Madness in college basketball for a textbook example.

If the No. 1-seeded teams in each of the four regionalized NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament brackets advanced to the Final Four every year by convincingly blowing out the lower-seeded teams on their sides of the bracket, it would make for a pretty boring tournament, as there would be fewer shining moments to look back on at the end of it.

Expansion Side Charlotte FC Could Be US Open Cup Darlings in Freshman Season

For MLS fans, teams, and players, the US Open Cup hits differently, as some teams cannot realistically contend for an MLS Cup Playoff spot later this fall.

Think of how monumental it would be if Charlotte FC were to advance all the way to the US Open Cup Final and win it.

For a team in its expansion season, it would be the talk of the MLS community if Charlotte were to win the US Open Cup, even more so if they could play in the final and win at Bank of America Stadium, provided that the venue is able to host the match, as the team shares the stadium with the NFL‘s Carolina Panthers.

The US Open Cup Final is slated to be held in early September, either the week of Sept. 6 or the week of Sept. 13, prior to the first and second weekends of the new NFL season.

Carolina is slated to play the new-look Cleveland Browns on Sept. 11 at home, followed up on Sept. 18 with a road game against the New York Giants.

If Bank of America Stadium is available to host the US Open Cup Final in September, that stadium would be just as energized for that game as it was for its inaugural home match in MLS this past March, when a record 74,479 fans attended Charlotte FC’s game against the LA Galaxy.

Charlotte FC has only conceded two goals thus far in the US Open Cup and has to take this tournament one match at a time, starting with the Round of 16 match against New York Red Bulls.

Final Thoughts

The US Open Cup has proven to be exciting over its first four rounds, and fans of the remaining MLS clubs are hopeful that the excitement continues over the next few months, culminating in their team winning it all.

Main Image Credits: Embed from Getty Images

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