The US Open Cup is back. After yet another structural change and in the typical fashion - that is to say, a draw conducted with an almost aggressive lack of fanfare - US Soccer has announced the pairings for the first and second round of this year's Open Cup. The 2015 edition of the tournament will feature the largest field of competitors in the last 20 years, as 91 clubs from across the country will vie to be crowned the country's champion.
As per usual, the best source of information about the tournament is thecup.us, which despite being unofficial is light years ahead of the USSF's site in terms of tournament news. That's why I'm linking to their piece on the 1st and 2nd round draw, which was conducted today at the USSF's headquarters.
This year's Open Cup will start with a preliminary round, as 91 teams doesn't lend itself to a straightforward bracket. The preliminary round features two games on April 25th: Harpo's FC - which is literally a pub team from Boulder, CO - will host KC Athletics FC, while San Francisco City FC will host Cal FC. KC and Cal are both US Adult Soccer Association sides placed in this round due to geography. Harpo's is the lone representative from the US Specialty Sports Association, while San Francisco will carry the flag for US Club Soccer.
The official First Round will take place on May 13th and features 21 games. Locally, both Maryland and Virginia have one representative in this stage: the Maryland Bays of the USASA will host Reading United AC, a Premier Development League team that has a strong history of advancing far enough to face (and often really test) teams from MLS. That game will take place at Calvert Hall High School in Towson. Virginia Beach City FC - one of twelve National Premier Soccer League representatives - will face a long trip north on 95 to face AC Connecticut of the PDL.
The winner of that last match will be on the road in the Second Round, where they will meet the Richmond Kickers on May 20th. The Kickers, like all USL clubs, received a bye to this stage of the tournament. Before you ask: Yes, all those new "(MLS team name) 2" clubs - save the Canadian sides, of course - will also participate in the Open Cup. Loanees can only play for one team in the USOC, so MLS clubs will have to think very carefully about whether they'll approve a player appearing for their affiliate. The Bays, for their part, would host the Harrisburg City Islanders if they pulled the upset against Reading.
After the Second Round, there will be 21 clubs left. They'll join the 9 American NASL teams in the Third Round. After that, the 17 US-based MLS teams will join the surviving 15 clubs in the Fourth Round. In years past, MLS clubs could lift a trophy in as few as four wins (or, if you ended up facing penalty kicks, advancing vie tiebreaker), but it will take five matches this time around.
It's hard to gauge at this point who D.C. United is likely to face. In years past, there was about a 75% chance that United would just play the Kickers or the team that beat the Kickers, but the new structure has lowered that percentage. There is no NASL club near the District; the closest sides are the New York Cosmos and the Carolina Railhawks, but those are also the closest NASL teams for every east coast MLS team save Orlando. In fact, with Florida having three NASL sides but only one in MLS, there's at least some chance that US Soccer pairs United with someone from the Sunshine State.
For the full results of the draw, check out thecup.us's full list of both rounds (which includes hosting info as well). US Soccer has sort of shown some understanding that there's an audience for this tournament, which means they might occasionally post pieces like this one from Jeff Crandall, which details the thought process behind the early-round pairings. It also goes so far as to tell us when coin flips ended heads or tails. Finally, if you really want to go all-in on this thing, an enterprising soul on reddit put together a map with every USOC entrant, as well as a list breaking down each state's participants. In one case, some history has been made:
As soccer blogging requires a particular strain of nerdery, you can be sure that us nerds at B&RU will be paying plenty of attention to the Open Cup. We hope you join in, as this tournament is a lot of fun. Just wait until, say, a team owner who also calls his side's games loses his mind over a goal. Or when the Galaxy - after being paired with a team from the Carolinas for no apparent reason - gets knocked off. Or when an Eric Wynalda-coached team of amateurs goes to Portland and knocks off a full-strength Timbes side. Or a historically bad MLS team walks away with the trophy in completely improbable fashion.