As the start of the 2021 Major League Soccer season approaches, more and more information keeps getting squared away. This should almost be called an all “Athletic” edition of Blue Links, as Sam Stejskal and Jeff Rueter broke nearly all this news. You probably should subscribe to it.
2021 Schedule Coming Soon
Sam and Jeff are reporting that the MLS schedule will not be out “for another two weeks or so.” Preseason is already under way and the season is set to begin the weekend of April 17th and 18th.
Possible US Open Cup Qualification Scenarios
As you may have heard, the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup field is shrinking in 2021 (better than being cancelled like in 2020). With an immense amount of league games, CONCACAF Champions League, Leagues Cup and international games on the calendar, something had to give. The US Open Cup will shrink from 101 clubs to 24. Of the 24, only eight will be MLS clubs.
The rumors is qualification will be determined by the results of the first three games of the season. It seems better than arbitrarily picking eight clubs but statistically three games means it’ll be very unbalanced.
MLS clubs will join in Round Two, which is on May 18th and 19th. The USL Championship clubs joining them are the eight division winners from the 2020 season (minus Reno who folded).
To refresh your memory, these were the 2020 #USL group winners:— Jeff Rueter (@jeffrueter) March 1, 2021
A. Sacramento Republic (replacing Reno)
B. Phoenix Rising
C. El Paso Locomotive
D. San Antonio FC
E. Louisville City
F. Hartford Athletic
G. Charlotte Independence
H. Tampa Bay Rowdies
Part of me is torn on this. Of course we want Sporting Kansas City to win all the trophies. Then again, this is a lot of competitions.
Sporting KC are in the Leagues Cup
Also, just casually dropped in the schedule discussion was confirmation that Sporting KC are in the 2nd edition of the Leagues Cup between MLS and Liga MX. They are joined by Toronto FC, Orlando City, Seattle Sounders, New York City FC, Minnesota United, the Colorado Rapids, the New York Red Bulls and Club Leon. Seven more Liga MX teams have yet to be announced.
This was expected but hasn’t been talked about much since the 2020 edition never happened because of COVID. The first ever competition was in 2019 and was half the size (just eight teams) and was won by Cruz Azul. SKC qualified by being one of the top four teams in each conference to not qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League. Arguably, Sporting should have gotten into that competition as the Western Conferences winners in 2020 but through some chicanery Atlanta United was given entry as the 2019 US Open Cup Champions even though that already got them into the 2020 CCL which they lost. Atlanta had one of the worst records in MLS in 2020 beating only D.C. United, the Houston Dynamo and FC Cincinnati. Thanks US Soccer.
It’ll be interesting to see SKC play more Mexican teams, but playing them in a more prestigious competition like CCL would be preferable and mean more if they win it.
Kansas City NWSL for the Win!
Preseason officially opened for KC NWSL against the Orlando Pride on Wednesday. KC took the victory by a 1-0 scoreline on the back of a 59th minute goal from Raisa Strom-Okimoto. She was assisted by midfielder Gaby Vincent.
Kansas City will return home for three more preseason games, this time against college competition. They will take on the Kansas Jayhawks, Kansas State Wildcats and Oklahoma Sooners.