USSF tells MLS that US Open Cup remains for first teams only

December 21 – Major League Soccer (MLS) has been told by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) that its clubs can only play first teams in the country’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

The MLS had previously announced it wanted to replace first teams in the Open Cup with teams from its developmental league, MLS Next Pro. It then took the proposal to the USSF which has swiftly denied the request.

“After thoughtful consideration, we have informed MLS that the U.S. Soccer staff recommendation, which was adopted by the Pro League Taskforce, is that the request be denied,” the USSF said in a statement.

The MLS clubs are facing fixture congestion with the introduction of the Leagues Cup against Mexico’s LigaMX clubs, and the increased MLS club interest in Concacaf’s Champions Cup that is opening up new competition pathways for them.

MLS commissioner Don Garber had been critical of the Open Cup calling it “a very poor reflection on what it is that we’re trying to do with soccer at the highest level.”

The Open Cup is the only competition in the US where MLS teams meet the rest of the football pyramid, including leading amateur clubs, and for many it has proved to be an embarrassing graveyard with upsets not uncommon.

Garber is isolated with his protectionist leaning comments and teams on the Open Cup issue.

The USL, which operates second and third tier professional leagues,  issued a statement saying: “United Soccer League clubs have competed in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup for nearly 30 years, including 46 USL clubs in the 2023 edition.

“We believe the Open Cup is an historic and integral part of America’s soccer culture.

“We stand with fans across the country who want to see it remain an authentic and inclusive competition.”

The third tier NISA was similarly supportive, saying: “The National Independent Soccer Association applauds the U.S. Soccer Federation’s position on U.S. Open Cup participation. While we appreciate Major League Soccer’s leadership role in the game, we certainly don’t agree with its decision to pass on pro clubs playing in the Open Cup. We think the beauty of the tournament is it embodies the ONLY opportunity for every club in the country to prove itself on the pitch — a merit-based competition. It also aligns our game with the world’s game.”

The USSF said: “As we move forward, we will continue our review of the Open Cup to ensure it aligns with the U.S. Soccer strategic pillars. We remain committed to addressing the needs and concerns of all of our members, including MLS, and other stakeholders to enhance and improve the U.S. Open Cup.”

Houston Dynamo’s are the current Open Cup champions, having beaten Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami in the final.

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