News came out Wednesday that the U.S. Open Cup, the longest-running national soccer tournament in the United States, has changed the format for 2012. The biggest change is that the field will be expanded in the competition proper, from 40 teams in 2011 to 64 this year. In addition to the fact that all American MLS clubs will automatically enter the competition in the third round, meaning they will not play qualifying games to get into the tournament, the NASL teams located in the U.S. will also join this year after being held out in 2011. Below those first two tiers, the USL-PRO sides, the third tier of professional soccer, will also feature. Between the 16 MLS clubs, six NASL clubs, and 10 USL-PRO clubs, 32 teams will comprise the professional side of the bracket. Meanwhile, 32 amateur sides will make up the rest of the teams in the competition.This article on the US Soccer website announces the format for the tournament. The first round will see the amateur sides facing off against each other based on geographical proximity (to cut down on travel costs for teams that may not have travel budgets). The NASL and USL-PRO clubs will play the winners of the first round in the second round, and the MLS clubs will join and play the second round winners in the third round. Geographical proximity will determine these matchups as well, again to cut down on travel costs. Of interest to MLS clubs is that these matches will be scheduled for Tuesdays, up until the final, so fixture congestion will be a concern for clubs that make a deep run.
Another change in the format is that the strange yet arguably pragmatic policy of bidding on the hosting rights for teams will switch to a "random selection process" through the quarterfinals, although there is no word about the details on that, or if the bidding process will continue for the semifinal and final rounds.
If my calculations are correct, Chivas USA is scheduled to enter the competition May 29, 2012, so mark your calendars and keep your eyes open for ticket sales. Can they make a run this year and even possibly unseat three-time champion Seattle Sounders? Let's not get ahead of ourselves, but if you're in it, you can win it.
2005: Lost to the LA Galaxy 5-2 in the fourth round
2006: Lost to Dallas Roma FC (amateur side) on PKs (4-2) in the third round
2007: Lost to Seattle Sounders (then in USL 1st division) 3-1 in the third round
2008: Lost to Seattle Sounders (then in USL 1st division) 2-0 in the third round
2009: Lost to Charleston Battery (then in USL 1st division) 3-1 in the third round
2010: Lost to Seattle Sounders 3-1 in the semifinals
2011: Lost to the Portland Timbers 2-0 in the first qualifying round
Two lessons from these past performances? The third round has been tricky for the Goats, and they should hope they don't have to face the Sounders. But that's the past, and this is almost a completely different team from even 2010. At any rate, we'll see how the third round match in late-May goes before planning for a final.
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