2021 US Open Cup schedule, format revealed; Phoenix Rising eligible
Revisions to the schedule and format of the 2021 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup were revealed on Tuesday.
U.S. Soccer announced that this year’s edition will be an abbreviated version of what fans have become accustomed to and is also contingent on the severity of the coronavirus pandemic.
This year’s U.S. Open Cup is set to feature only five rounds compared to its usual eight and will be completed within two months. The tournament is scheduled to kick off on May 4 or 5 and conclude with the final on June 29 or 30. The winner of the competition will earn $300,000 in prize money and qualify for the 2022 Concacaf Champions League.
As a result of having fewer rounds, only 24 teams will be able to participate out of the usual 101 eligible clubs. However, the tournament will still be comprised of teams across all four divisions of U.S. Soccer’s pyramid.
Of the 24 clubs to be selected, eight will come from MLS, eight from USL Championship, two from USL League One, two from NISA and four from the open division (includes USL League Two and NPSL). That means that three Arizona clubs are eligible to be selected to participate in the 2021 U.S. Open Cup: Phoenix Rising FC, FC Tucson and FC Arizona.
U.S. Soccer is planning on announcing if the competition will take place as scheduled on March 29 and what the opening matchups will be on March 31. However, there are also two contingency plans in place that would either further shorten or cancel the tournament altogether should the COVID-19 pandemic prevent or delay it from being played.
The first plan is to reduce the number of teams from 24 to 16, with the divisional spread being eight from MLS, four from USL Championship, one from USL League One, one from NISA and two from the open division. The other option is to cancel the competition completely should the coronavirus pandemic still not allow for the tournament to played by April 19.
The 2020 edition of the tournament was canceled due to COVID-19, the first cancellation in the history of the competition — including through both world wars — that started in 1913-14.
“As we looked at our scheduling options, the Open Cup Committee first prioritized the health and safety of the players and decided against scheduling matches in both March and April due to the ongoing circumstances with the COVID-19 pandemic,” U.S. Open Cup Commissioner Paul Marstaller said in a press release.
“We also took into consideration the extended June FIFA window and the Concacaf Gold Cup taking place through Aug. 1, along with the semifinal and final rounds of the 2021 Concacaf Champions League being scheduled in the fall. In the end, we all felt a shortened version for this year was the best format, and we’re excited to have the opportunity to crown a champion after not being able to in 2020.”
Should the tournament take place, this could be a monumental opportunity for Phoenix Rising to make its furthest U.S. Open Cup run in club history. Despite winning two Western Conference championships and a regular-season title in each of the last three seasons, PRFC has never made it to the round of 32.
In fact, each of the last two Rising appearances were in the second round of the competition and resulted in being knocked out via penalty shootout against Sporting Arizona FC in 2018 and New Mexico United in 2019, the latter of which featured Santi Moar scoring against PRFC in the shootout.
And after seeing the likes of USLC clubs such as Saint Louis FC and Reno 1868 FC fold this offseason, one would imagine Phoenix would be selected even if the tournament was reduced to 16 teams.