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Lamar Hunt US Open Cup explainer: How USA’s oldest club soccer tournament works

We go over everything you need to know about the U.S. Open Cup, which is US Soccer’s longest-running national cup competition.

Atlanta United vs Minnesota United, 2019 US Open Cup Final Set Number: X162844 TK1

This year’s edition of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is coming down the homestretch, with just eight teams left in pursuit of the 2022 trophy. Six of those teams are from MLS, while two of them hail from lower divisions in the US Soccer hierarchy. Sacramento Republic FC, once just moments away from being awarded an expansion spot in MLS, plays in the second-tier league USL Championship, while Union Omaha SC participates in the third-tier USL League One.

What is the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup?

The U.S. Open Cup is the oldest national cup tournament in soccer in the United States, dating back to 1913. Any team who plays in a league that’s part of the US Soccer organization can qualify for the tournament, opening it up to plenty of teams from lower divisions who can try their hand at making a deep run.

2022 marks the first edition of the USOC since 2019, as the subsequent editions in 2020 and 2021 were called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

How does the Open Cup work?

All clubs enter the tournament at different stages with the first round beginning with clubs from the lowest divisions like NPSL, USL League Two, and the Open Division that allows amateur teams from local competitions to qualify. The second round sees more clubs from lower divisions join, including USL Championship, MLS Next Pro, and USL League One.

MLS teams don’t start joining until the third round, when 17 of the league’s teams made their entry in April and faced off against the remaining lower division teams who advanced from the second round. The fourth round, or the Round of 32, sees the last eight MLS teams enter, which consists of the four teams playing in CONCACAF Champions League, followed by the next best two teams who had the highest finishes from each conference in last year’s MLS season.

Only 25 of the 28 teams in MLS enter the tournament, as the competition is only available to clubs based in the United States. The Vancouver Whitecaps, CF Montreal, and Toronto FC aren’t eligible to participate in the USOC.

Who won last year’s tournament?

Since there were no tournaments held in 2020 or 2021, MLS side Atlanta United FC have been the reigning USOC champions since 2019. They defeated Minnesota United with a 2-1 final score, thanks to two early goals before the 20th minute.

Who is expected to win this year’s tournament?

While tournament winner odds aren’t out on DraftKings Sportsbook quite yet, there are still two lower-division teams in Union Omaha SC and Sacramento Republic FC who are fighting to stay alive in the competition against tougher MLS clubs.

History will show that an MLS side is generally favored to win, as the last non-MLS club to take home the trophy was the Rochester Rhinos, of the now-defunct A-League, in the 1999 edition of the tournament. The Rhinos have since rebranded, and now participate in MLS Next Pro as Rochester New York FC.

How can I watch the Open Cup?

All U.S. Open Cup matches will be streamed live on ESPN+, as they have exclusive rights to the tournament through 2022.