Even if its stature in the sporting landscape is still miniscule, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup will boast the most entrants in the tournament's 102-year history. America's oldest soccer competition will include 91 teams from the amateur and professional ranks playing for a grand prize of $250,000.
The San Jose Earthquakes will be one of a record 47 teams from the professional ranks of the U.S. Soccer pyramid in the field for the 2015 event. Major League Soccer, the First Division, is represented by 17 teams, while the NASL, the Second Division, is represented by 9 teams. USL PRO which has a strong partnership with MLS and claims Division III status, sends 21 teams to the knock-out style tournament.
The Earthquakes are scheduled to enter the Open Cup in the fourth round, which will be played on June 16-17, as the 17 MLS teams are grouped with the 15 survivors of the earlier rounds of the tournament. Each MLS team will be paired up with a geographically close team from those 15 lower division sides; two MLS teams will face each other to complete the fourth round pairings.
Of note, this set-up all but guarantees that if the Sacramento Republic FC make it through the early rounds of the tournament, the defending USL PRO champions would face the Quakes in a rematch of last year's dramatic U.S. Open Cup match at Kezar Stadium.
Following Round Four, the 16 remaining teams will be grouped into four groups of four geographically close teams. For San Jose, if it gets past its lower division foe, that would likely mean a quartet of west coast MLS opponents. Defending Open Cup champions Seattle Sounders would make for a logical opponent, as would defending MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy should they survive.
For an MLS team to capture the Cup, and earn the automatic berth into the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League, it will need to win five straight matches. The farthest into the tournament that the Earthquakes have reached since rejoining MLS in 2008 was the quarterfinals in 2012 when they lost to eventual runners-up Seattle. The Quakes have never won the Open Cup, and their best result as a franchise came in 2004 when they lost to the Kansas City Wizards in the semifinal round.
Joining the Earthquakes in the 102nd edition of the tournament are the Burlingame Dragons and San Francisco City FC. Burlingame enters with an at-large bid as a member of the Premier Development League (PDL), and begins play in the first round on May 13. SF City FC, which defeated Stanislaus United Academica last weekend to capture the NorCal Premier League Championship, is the lone U.S. Club Soccer representative in this year's Open Cup and opens with a Play-in round match.
The Dragons were established in late 2014 and will serve as the Quakes PDL team this season and beyond. An amateur side, as are all clubs in the PDL, Burlingame will feature a roster chosen by the Earthquakes technical staff and will be coached by Dana Taylor. Taylor was the coach of the Earthquakes U-23 team based in Turlock in 2014.
SF City FC will be the first team from San Francisco to participate in the U.S. Open Cup since 1997. The amateur side is one of four teams that is scheduled to play in the Play-in Round, scheduled for April 22-26, when they will be paired with the geographically nearest qualifier from the U.S. Adult Soccer Association (USASA). Of the 11 USASA representatives in the tournament, three hail from California -- Cal FC, PSA Elite, and Chula Vista FC -- and make up the pool of potential opponents for City FC.
Based on direct distance, the closest club is Cal FC, based in Thousand Oaks. Cal FC is famous for its Cinderella U.S. Open Cup run in 2012, when the Eric Wynalda coached squad upset the Portland Timbers of MLS to reach the fourth round. PSA Elite, based in Orange County, also boasts a strong recent tournament performance, reaching the Round of 32 in 2014 before falling to eventual champions Seattle. Whoever the opponent, SF City FC will face a strong challenge in its opening round match.
The emphasis by U.S. Soccer to pair teams based on geography is nothing new -- the organizers have been doing that for quite a few years now -- is does add an extra dose of rivalries in the early rounds of the tournament. For amateur and lower division teams, it helps minimize travel and gives those clubs a chance to win in front of their home fans. For MLS sides, it provides an annual opportunity to maintain their standing among all teams in a given region.
For the Bay Area, the Earthquakes have carried that mantle the last couple of years, but Sacramento Republic will not give up easily, and maybe Burlingame or SF City can make a magical run to challenge San Jose. One thing is certain, America's oldest soccer tournament has something to offer to every fan. The action begins in earnest on April 22.
102nd Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup schedule
- Number of Games: 2
- Date: April 22-26
- Participants: Lone US Club Soccer and USSSA representatives each will face the USASA side geographically closest to it.
- Number of Games: 21
- Date: May 13
- Participants: Two winners from Play-In Round are joined by remaining 40 amateur sides.
- Description: Teams will be paired geographically with the restriction that teams from the same qualifying pool (e.g. USASA regional qualifiers, PDL, NPSL, etc.) cannot be paired to play each other.
- Number of Games: 21
- Date: May 20
- Participants: Winners of 21 First Round games face 21 USL PRO clubs.
- Description: At the time the First Round pairings are made, each USL PRO team will be matched geographically to a specific First Round pairing and be scheduled to play its winner.
- Number of Games: 15
- Date: May 27
- Participants: Winners of 21 Second Round games are joined by nine NASL sides.
- Description: After each Second Round matchup has been determined, each NASL team will be paired geographically to a specific Second Round matchup and be scheduled to play its winner. The 12 remaining Second Round matchups not paired with a Division II side will be paired up geographically, with the winners playing each other.
- Number of Games: 16
- Date: June 16-17
- Participants: Winners from 15 Third Round games are joined by 17 MLS clubs.
- Description: After each Third Round matchup has been determined, 15 of 17 MLS teams will be paired geographically to a specific Third Round matchup and be scheduled to play these winners, while two MLS teams will face each other to complete the bracket.
Fifth Round Draw
- Date: June 18
- The Fourth Round winners will be divided geographically (regardless of league affiliation) into groups of four, with teams who have a shared-ownership affiliation precluded from being in the same group. A random draw will determine the pairings within each group, resulting in a fixed bracket for the remainder of the tournament. Should two ownership-affiliated teams reach the semifinal round and be scheduled to face each other, the matches will be re-drawn after the quarterfinals to avoid this outcome.
- Number of Games: 8
- Date: June 30-July 1
- Fourth Round winners face each other as determined by the Fifth Round Draw.
- Date: July 21-22
- Date: Aug. 11-12
- Date: Sept. 29 or 30