The league made the official announcement just after 6 pm ET earlier today, Friday, the traditional time for releasing unpopular news. (You can read the full press release at the end of this post.) Indeed, the disclosure is being met with surprise and disappointment from American soccer fans who cherish the underdog matchups between amateur teams, semi-pro sides, and top-flight clubs. A total of 100 teams participated in the 2023 edition of the tournament, which was won by the Houston Dynamo when they defeated Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami by the score of 2-1.
First awarded in 1914, the US Open Cup is older than the Copa America or the World Cup. MLS teams have won 25 of the last 26 US Open Cups since joining the tournament in 1996. You have to go back to back to 1999, when the Rochester Raging Rhinos defeated the Colorado Rapids by the score of 2-0, to find a non-MLS club that lifted the trophy.
The list of winners is a history lesson of the soccer in this country. Once clubs such as Bethlehem Steel Football Club, Greek American Atlas Astoria, and New York Pancyprian-Freedoms fielded powerhouse teams in a sport largely played by immigrants.
A cynical take is that MLS isn’t interested in taking part in a tournament that they don’t control or televise. Before the 2023 season, MLS signed a lucrative $2.5 billion 10-year deal with Apple TV. The broadcast rights include the Leagues Cup, a midseason tournament held between all the clubs in MLS and Liga MX introduced just last year, and the two tournaments overlapped.
This isn’t the first time that the top-flight soccer league in America refused to participate in the tournament. The North American Soccer League, which operated from 1968 to 1984, didn’t take part in the US Open Cup.
MLS also announced that teams in MLS NEXT Pro, the affiliated developmental league considered to be on the third tier of the American Soccer pyramid, will participate in the US Open Cup. MLS NEXT Pro was established in 2022, and didn’t take part in the tournament these past two years.
MLS Plans to be Represented by MLS NEXT Pro Clubs in
2024 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup
NEW YORK (Friday, December 15, 2023) – Major League Soccer announced today that at its recent Board of Governors meeting its clubs voted to have MLS NEXT Pro teams represent the organization in the 2024 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. MLS will coordinate with U.S. Soccer regarding participation in the tournament.
This decision will provide emerging professional players with additional opportunities for meaningful competition. The move also benefits the MLS regular season by reducing schedule congestion, freeing up to six midweek match dates.
The inclusion of MLS NEXT Pro clubs in the Open Cup follows the involvement of dozens of MLS NEXT Pro players in the 2023 tournament, where they were called up to MLS first teams.
MLS remains committed to working with U.S. Soccer to evolve and elevate the Open Cup for everyone involved in the years ahead.