Sounders FC will face a new-look U.S. Open Cup format in 2012 as it seeks an unprecedented fourth-straight title later this year.
U.S. Soccer announced a number of changes to the knockout-style tournament Wednesday. Notably, the 99th edition of the competition will feature all 16 U.S. MLS teams and the bidding process to host games has been scrapped for a random selection through the quarterfinals.
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— The biggest news is expanding the field to 64 teams, making it the largest in a modern era that started in 1995 (previous: 42 in 2005-06). That’s an increase of 24 teams from last year and all professional clubs from the top three tiers of U.S. Soccer will be participating in the tournament proper for the first time ever.
16 MLS teams in the field is the first time since 2006 that all the top-flight teams were in the competition. Only eight MLS teams were in the field the past five years. All six U.S. NASL teams (Div. II) and all 10 U.S. USL PRO teams (Div. III) are in the field, as well.
The remaining 32 teams will be from the amateur ranks, which includes the PDL.
— The other major news is that the blind bidding process for hosting games has been scrapped until the semifinals. Home games will be determined by random selection through the quarterfinals if the venues for both meet all the necessary requirements. This particularly affects Seattle, which has benefited from the bidding and only played three games on the road in its three-peat run. According to theCup.us, a $15,000 hosting free will be required to be eligible to host from the third round through the quarterfinals.
— The rounds are scheduled to take place earlier in the year in the new format, so as to avoid some clutter later in the season (e.g. when CONCACAF Champions League play kicks off). As a reference, the Open Cup final was on Oct. 4 last year. It’s scheduled for Aug. 7 or 8 this year.
— Prize money remains $100,000 for the winner and $50,000 for the runner up. The top Division II, Division III and amateur clubs each gets $10,000.
2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Schedule
April 29: Qualifying deadline
May 15: First Round
May 22: Second Round
May 29: Third Round (MLS teams enter here)
June 5: Fourth Round
June 26: Quarterfinals
July 10: Semifinals (Bidding process for home games starts here)
Aug. 7 or 8: Final
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Participating Professional Teams (32 total)
Major League Soccer (Division I – 16 teams): Chicago Fire, Chivas USA, Colorado Rapids, Columbus Crew, D.C. United, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, LA Galaxy, New England Revolution, New York Red Bulls, Philadelphia Union, Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders FC, Sporting Kansas City.
North American Soccer League (Division II – 6 teams): Atlanta Silverbacks, Carolina RailHawks, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, NSC Minnesota Stars, San Antonio Scorpions, Tampa Bay Rowdies.
USL PRO (Division III – 10 teams): Charleston Battery, Charlotte Eagles, Dayton Dutch Lions, Harrisburg City Islanders, Los Angeles Blues, Orlando City, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Richmond Kickers, Rochester Rhinos, Wilmington Hammerheads.
Distribution of Amateur-Level Places (32 total):
U.S. Adult Soccer Association Regional Qualifiers – 9 places: USASA regional qualifiers will increase their number of places in the tournament by one compared to 2011.
United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League – 16 places: The PDL will have the largest increase in representation among the amateur leagues since 2011, growing from nine slots.
National Premier Soccer League – 6.5 places: The NPSL is a national amateur league affiliated with the USASA. In previous years, its teams participated via USASA regional qualifying.
US Club Soccer – 0.5 place: U.S. Club Soccer is an organization member of U.S. Soccer.
Note: One team from the National Premier Soccer League will face a US Club Soccer representative for the final place in the tournament.
2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Facts:
— Largest field of teams (64) in tournament proper in competition’s modern era (1995 to present), eclipsing previous record of 42 (2005, 2006)
— Largest expansion of teams (24) from previous a year in competition’s modern era
— First time in modern era where all U.S.-based Division I, II and III professional clubs will participate in tournament proper
— Home teams through quarterfinal round to be determined by random selection (change from sealed bid process)
— Largest field of professional teams (32) in tournament proper in competition’s modern era, eclipsing previous record of 28 (2000, 2001)
— Largest field of amateur teams (32) in tournament proper in competition’s modern era, eclipsing previous record of 21 (2011)