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2020 US Open Cup Changes: Sporting KC Enter a Round Earlier

Sweeping changes coming to the 2020 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.

SOCCER: SEP 20 US Open Cup - New York Red Bulls at Sporting Kansas City
It’ll be just a little tougher to raise this trophy for Sporting KC as they’ll need to win one more game.
Photo by Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2020 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup will be just a little harder for Sporting Kansas City to win. They, along with 10 other MLS teams, will enter the tournament one round earlier — in the Third Round — and will face off against lower division clubs from around US Soccer. In previous seasons all the MLS clubs from the US would enter in the Fourth Round — now relabeled as the Round of 32.

The seeding for which MLS clubs come in Round Three versus the Round of 32 are determined by qualifications to the CONCACAF Champions League as well as the final MLS conference standings. The four entrants into CCL will enter in the Round of 32 along with the next top four finishers in both the Eastern and Western Conference standings. So 12 MLS clubs join in the Round of 32 and 11 come in one around earlier in the Third Round.

When Will Your Team Enter?

Sporting KC will enter in Round Three by virtue of finishing next to last in the Western Conference in 2019.

Here is the full breakdown of all the MLS entrants courtesy of US Soccer:

Teams entering in the Third Round (11): Chicago Fire FC, Colorado Rapids, Columbus Crew SC, FC Cincinnati, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, Inter Miami CF, Nashville SC, Orlando City SC, San Jose Earthquakes, Sporting Kansas City

Teams entering in the Round of 32 (12): Atlanta United FC (defending Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup champion), D.C. United, Los Angeles Football Club, LA Galaxy, Minnesota United FC, New England Revolution, New York City FC, New York Red Bulls, Philadelphia Union, Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake, Seattle Sounders FC

As you can see, expansion teams Nashville SC and Inter Miami CF are automatically placed in the Third Round. FC Dallas is the highest seeded team to not get a bye into the Round of 32. They finished 7th in the West and made the playoffs with a better record than the New England Revolution, but by virtue of unbalanced schedules and them being in different conferences, the Revs got the bye.

Other Changes

The Open Cup will also start earlier than before. The First Round will happen on March 24th-25th. That is the earliest in modern history (1995 to the present). The goal is to allow rounds to take place at least two weeks apart. That should help some with feature congestion and not make a team play Wednesday, Saturday/Sunday, Wednesday (or some variant). Though there is no saying MLS (or whatever league said team is in) won’t put regular season games in those slots. US Soccer believes it will help ticket sales as games will be known more than a week in advance.

What’s Not Changing

Lower division teams that are owned by higher division teams are still barred from competing. So no Swope Park Rangers Sporting KC II knocking off a Goliath. This is something I personally would like to see change, but it seems very unlikely. The simple solution seems to be if a lower division team gets a loan from an upper division team, that player is cap tied to the lower division team for the rest of the tournament. The Real Monarchs SLC are the defending USL Championship winners but they can’t compete because they are owned by Real Salt Lake. That seems unfortunate.


Sporting KC should know who they will face in the Third Round on April 10th. Below is the full schedule courtesy of

Jan. 9 - Pairings methodology, Open Division berth allocation announced

Jan. 22 - First Round pairings announced

Jan. 29 - Second Round pairings and possible pairings announced

March 24-25 - First Round (Open Division teams enter)

April 7-9 - Second Round (Division II and III teams enter)

April 10 - Third Round Draw

April 21-23 - Third Round (11 Division I teams enter)

April 24 - Round of 32 Draw

May 19-20 - Round of 32 (remaining 12 Division I teams enter)

May 21 - Round of 16/Quarterfinal Draw

June 10 - Possible Round of 16

June 23-24 - Round of 16 or Quarterfinals

July 14-15 - Quarterfinals or Semifinals

Aug. 11-12 - Semifinals or Final

Sept. 22-24 - Possible Final

Sporting Kansas City are four time US Open Cup Champions, most recently having won the 2017 version of the tournament at home against the New York Red Bulls. That qualified them for the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League which may have had a role in the utter collapse that was the 2019 season. Sporting KC also won the trophy in 2004, 2012 and 2015.

Thoughts on the Changes

Personally, I’m for this move. It will ensure more competition between MLS clubs and teams below them. In 2019 only 11 lower division clubs faced MLS teams. 11 teams will meet MLS clubs in the Third Round alone. Even if every single lower division team loses (which is unlikely) then there are still only 11 MLS teams moving on to face 12 MLS teams in the next round, so there has to be lower level competition meeting MLS clubs. Not to mention there are a total of 32 teams (that only adds up to 23) so there will likely be quite a few more MLS versus USL Championship/USL League One/etc. match-ups in our future.

Another pro is this is yet more motivation to finish higher in the table in MLS (as if the shame of not making the massive MLS Cup Playoffs isn’t enough). By missing the playoffs, you get put into a tournament you have to play earlier. Also you play against a team that it frankly would be embarrassing to lose to. If Sporting KC lose to St Louis, Des Moines or Omaha (just guessing based on regional match-ups and Mike Kuhn’s knowledge of lower level Midwest soccer), that’s a black mark on KC.

And finally, we get to see new match-ups. KC has played St. Louis before, but they’ve not met most of their lower division counter-parts. Besides the aforementioned clubs, they could face the USL clubs from Oklahoma (Energy FC, FC Tulsa) And if there are more upsets, then the odds of new match-ups increases further. Not having to watch KC face Minnesota, Houston or Dallas every year would be a welcome change.