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U.S. Open Cup gets bigger, better

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Penalty Kicks,Sports,Craig Stouffer

On the occasion of the 100th edition of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, U.S. Soccer has finally committed to make the tournament transparent enough that it might finally become credible and relevant beyond the players participating.

The federation announced that it has more than doubled the prize money for the champion, $250,000 instead of $100,000. The winner will emerge from the tournament’s largest-ever field of 68 teams, and most importantly, from matches whose hosts will be determined randomly, not by a sealed-bid process that has been a source of controversy in the past, such as when D.C. United hosted the final over Seattle in 2009. The hosts of the semifinals and finals will be chosen via coin flip.

The U.S. Open Cup has a great tradition in U.S. soccer, due to its knockout format and the fact that no other sport has the potential to pit lower-level teams against the best ones in the nation. But it has long suffered from a lack of promotion by U.S. Soccer and processes that made it look like a cash grab instead of a fair competition. More cash gives MLS teams incentive to field full strength sides. More transparency makes it possible that the Richmond Kickers could conceivably host the final against the Seattle Sounders, who can draw 50,000 fans for a championship match.

Major League Soccer’s 16 U.S.-based teams, including D.C. United, will enter the tournament in the round of 32 on Tuesday, May 28. All U.S.-based teams in the sport’s three top tiers will participate. Teams from USL Pro and the NASL will start in the round before MLS teams join, which takes place on Tuesday, May 21.

Aside from the increase in the winners’ share, the tournament runner-up will receive $60,000 (up from $50,000) and the team that advances the furthest from each lower division will win $15,000 (up from $10,000).

The rest of the dates after MLS teams jump in: Fourth round (June 12); Quarterfinals (June 26); Semifinals (Aug. 7 or 21); and championship (Oct. 1 or 2).

The breakdown of participating teams (34 pro, 34 amatuer): 

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, Minnesota Stars FC, San Antonio Scorpions, Tampa Bay Rowdies.

USL PRO (Division III – 12 teams): Charleston Battery, Charlotte Eagles, Dayton Dutch Lions, Harrisburg City Islanders, Los Angeles Blues, Orlando City, Phoenix FC Wolves, Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Richmond Kickers, Rochester Rhinos, VSI Tampa Bay FC, Wilmington Hammerheads.

U.S. Adult Soccer Association Regional Qualifiers – 8 places: Four USASA regional qualifiers advanced to the second round in 2012, including Cinderella story Cal FC, who reached the fourth round.

United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League – 16 places: The PDL will have the largest representation among amateur leagues. In 2012 the Michigan Bucks were the lone PDL team to reach the fourth round.

National Premier Soccer League – 8 places: The NPSL is a national amateur league affiliated with the USASA. Prior to last year, its teams participated via USASA regional qualifying.

US Club Soccer – 1 place: US Club Soccer is an organization member of U.S. Soccer. It was first represented in last year’s tournament.

U.S. Specialty Sports Association – 1 place: The USSSA is an organization member of U.S. Soccer. Its clubs will be participating for the first time in this year’s tournament.

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