The format for the 100th edition of the U.S. Open Cup was released today and D.C. United could have players signed to first team contracts playing for three different teams. All 16 MLS teams based in the United States enter in the round of 32; the Richmond Kickers will enter in the previous round, along with 6 of the 7 of the US based NASL teams (the New York Cosmos won't start play until the fall). Finally, the first round will see 8 NPSL teams enter the competition, which means that there is a possibility that the D.C. United U-23 team could qualify for one of those spots. If, as expected, Michael Seaton plays some games for the U-23s, it is possible he could be cup tied to them for the duration of the U.S. Open Cup. Open Cup qualification and the tournament proper be a good way for the U-23s to get more meaningful games as well.
In addition to all of the United players competing, the stakes for the U.S. Open Cup have gotten bigger. The winning team will now take home $250,000, up from $100,000 last year; the runner-up will take home $60,000, up from $50,000, and the teams that makes it the furthest from each of the NASL, USL, and the amateur leagues will take home $15,000. Cash money is always a good incentive and the winner now gets to take home more than twice as much.
The last major change is to how the home team for each match is decided. In years past, teams were able to bid for the home field advantage; this inevitably led to the MLS teams, particularly the ones who care more about the Cup, blowing other teams away for the rights to host the games. D.C. United, for example, hosted years worth of games before traveling to Richmond for the infamous Bodkin game. This year, however, the host for each game will be determined by a simple coin flip. While this is a downside for teams like the Seattle Sounders, who last year went so far as to buy the hosting rights from lower division teams, I believe it is an upside for the growth of lower division soccer. Not unlike the barnstorming tours of the 1910s and 1920s, MLS teams visiting lower division stadiums can help raise the profile of those teams and hopefully get more people out to their games.
What do you all think of the new changes to the U.S. Open Cup? Personally, its one of my favorite tournaments; I hope United, as they always have, give it the respect it deserves and try their best to win it.