US Open Cup 2021 schedule, format introduced; Phoenix Rising Eligible

Phoenix Rising FC captain and striker Solomon Asante. (Arizona Sports / Ashley Orellana)

Changes to the schedule and format of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup 2021 were announced on Tuesday.

US Soccer announced that this year’s edition will be a condensed version of what fans have gotten used to, and will also depend on the severity of the coronavirus pandemic.

This year’s US Open Cup will only comprise five rounds compared to the usual eight rounds and will be completed within two months. The tournament begins on May 4th or 5th and ends on June 29th or 30th with the final. The winner of the competition will receive $ 300,000 in prize money and qualify for the Concacaf Champions League 2022.

Due to the smaller number of rounds, only 24 teams from the usual 101 eligible clubs can participate. However, the tournament will continue to consist of teams from all four divisions of the U.S. soccer pyramid.

Of the 24 clubs to be selected, eight come from the MLS, eight from the USL Championship, two from USL League One, two from NISA and four from the Open Division (including USL League Two and NPSL). That means three clubs from Arizona can be selected to compete in the 2021 US Open Cup: Phoenix Rising FC, Tucson FC and Arizona FC.

US Soccer plans to announce if the competition will take place on March 29th as planned and how the opening games will take place on March 31st. However, there are also two contingency plans that would either shorten the tournament further or cancel it altogether if the COVID-19 pandemic prevents or delays playing.

The first plan is to reduce the number of teams from 24 to 16, with the division comprising eight from MLS, four from USL Championship, one from USL League One, one from NISA and two from the Open Division. The other option is to cancel the competition entirely if the coronavirus pandemic does not allow the tournament by April 19.

The 2020 edition of the tournament was canceled due to COVID-19, the first cancellation in the history of the competition – also due to both world wars – which began between 1913 and 1914.

“In considering our planning options, the Open Cup Committee first prioritized the health and safety of the players and decided against planning games in March and April due to the ongoing circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said US Open Cup commissioner Paul Marstaller said in a press release.

“We also took into account the extended FIFA window in June and the Concacaf Gold Cup, which will take place until August 1st, as well as the semi-finals and the final of the Concacaf Champions League 2021, which are planned for autumn. In the end, we all felt that a shortened version was the best format for this year, and we’re excited to have the opportunity to crown a champion after failing to make it in 2020. “

Should the tournament take place, it could be a monumental opportunity for Phoenix Rising to play its largest US Open Cup in the club’s history. Despite winning two Western Conference championships and one regular season title in the past three seasons, PRFC never made it to the round of 16.

In fact, each of the last two Rising appearances were in the second round of the competition, resulting in being knocked out on penalties against Sporting Arizona FC in 2018 and New Mexico United in 2019, with Santi Moar scoring against PRFC in the shootout.

And after USLC clubs like Saint Louis FC and Reno 1868 FC folded that offseason, one could imagine Phoenix being selected even if the tournament is reduced to 16 teams.

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