U.S. Open Cup, USOC
Photo by Steel Brooks

U.S. Open Cup 101: A look at the 100th edition of the historic domestic soccer competition

This year’s U.S. Open Cup is the 100th playing of the tournament, making it the oldest ongoing soccer competition in the United States. Dating back to 1914, the annual tournament has grown to a 68-team bracket, bringing together teams from all tiers of the United States soccer league system. It is also one of the oldest domestic cups in the world, trailing the FA Cup, Scottish Cup, KNVB Cup, Copa del Rey, and the Belgian Cup.

This Wednesday, the Portland Timbers enter the illustrious tournament to face the Wilmington Hammerheads of USL PRO in the Third Round of the 2013 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup (TICKETS, Webstream: www.portlandtimbers.com / 750 AM The Game). Because MLS teams don’t enter the tournament until the third round, this will be the Timbers’ first USOC match of 2013. For Wilmington, it will be their second match after defeating the Austin Aztex of the PDL 2-0.

Originally known as the National Challenge Cup, the U.S. Open Cup, has a storied history of allowing teams from all areas of the country to be able to represent their regions, cities, neighborhoods, and companies. Company sponsored clubs historically are among the most successful with Bethlehem Steel winning five trophies between 1915 and 1926. Maccabi Los Angeles also has five trophies, the last of which was won back in 1981.

In 1940, the Cup saw its only undecided final. At the time, the Cup was a two-leg aggregate final. Baltimore S.C. and Chicago Sparta played to a 2-2 aggregate draw and could not decide on a third, tie-breaking match so the two clubs shared the title.

Since the inclusion of Major League Soccer in 1996, only one non-MLS team has won the Cup when the Rochester Rhinos of the A-League defeated the Colorado Rapids in 1999. Since 1996, the Chicago Fire have claimed four of them.

Over the years, the structure of the tournament has changed dramatically, most recently with in 2013. Because the field was expanded to a record 68 teams, the qualifying process was restructured. All Division I, II, and III sides participate in the tournament, with the remaining 34 spots filled by the Adult Council category. For 2013, qualifying looks like this:

Division I – Major League Soccer (MLS): 16 teams
Division II – North American Soccer League (NASL): 6 teams
Division III – USL Pro: 12 teams
Premier Development League (PDL): 16 teams
U.S. Adult Soccer Association (USASA): 8 teams
National Premier Soccer League (NPSL): 8 teams
U.S. Club Soccer: 1 team
United States Specialty Sport Association: 1 team

The tournament is then structured as follows:

Preliminary Round - 2 NPSL vs. 1 Specialty Sports & 1 US Club Soccer
First Round - Preliminary Round winners plus USASA, NPSL, PDL entries and 4 USL Pro teams
Second Round – First Round winners join remaining 8 USL Pro and 6 NASL teams.
Third Round - 16 Second Round winners are paired against 16 MLS sides.

The winners of the Third Round then move on to the Fourth Round knockout stage and so on to the Final. This year’s USOC winner will take home $250,000, an increase from the previous year’s prize of $100,000. Additionally, the winner earns a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League tournament, a right that has been awarded since 2008.

The biggest change, however, is the format for deciding home-field advantage in the tournament. In years past, a sealed bid process determined the home team. In 2013, the home team is determined by a coin flip.