With the 2023 MLS Cup in the rearview mirror, fans are now waiting for next year’s schedule to be revealed. But at the other end of the US Soccer pyramid, clubs are already preparing for the 2024 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup: On Monday, the United States Soccer Federation named the 32 amateur teams that will take part in the tournament.
These non-professional teams will enter the competition in the first round, which will be held March 19–21, 2024.
Officially named the Open Division, the category includes anything below the three professional tiers and encompasses a few different levels of the American pyramid. Some teams come from local or regional leagues and had to qualify through tournaments. Others earned qualification by finishing at the top of a large national league or winning national competitions.
Only two teams in the Open Division come from the New York and New Jersey metro area. And both are (possibly) only a few wins away from a match against either
New York City FC or the New York Red Bulls. UPDATE: On Friday, December 15 at 6:01 pm ET, MLS announced that no teams from the league will participate in the 2024 US Open Cup.
Hammer up the Hudson
The Hudson Valley Hammers (Newburgh, NY) will make their Open Cup debut in March. Former New York Red Bulls midfielder and current AFC Bournemouth star Tyler Adams founded the Hammers in 2020.
The squad from upstate was just in their sophomore season in USL League Two this past year. They finished second in a highly competitive Metropolitan Division, enough to qualify for the league playoffs as a wildcard.
The team won their first-ever playoff game this year, but eventually fell in the conference semifinals.
Unfortunately, the inclusion of the Hammers is also a statement of the difficulties that teams face when participating in the US Open Cup.
Both the USL and National Premier Soccer League award US Open Cup spots based on the results of the previous season. For USL League Two, the league champion are given the first priority spot, followed by division winners (so long as the team is based in the US). The rest of the league’s teams are sorted by points per game (PPG).
USL League Two was allocated 11 spots. Hudson Valley was ranked 22nd, behind 17 conference champions. Eleven teams declined their invitations, which allowed the Hammers to qualify. Each club have their own reasons, but one prevalent issue is USL League Two’s reliance on college players, who usually aren’t available when the tournament kicks off in mid-March. That’s because students either need special permission from their school, or face being stripped of collegiate eligibility due to NCAA regulations.
Because of that, it’s difficult to predict or spotlight Hammer players expected to play in March. Whether they are in college or potentially drafted by teams in the MLS SuperDraft there is a lot of turnover between league play and the Open Cup.
Motown back in the cup
On the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, FC Motown (Morristown, NJ) is no stranger to the US Open Cup. After making their debut in 2017, the side is riding a streak of seven straight cup qualifications (including the canceled 2020 tournament), which is the active record for an amateur team.
This past season Motown went unbeaten in the NPSL Keystone East Conference, with eight wins and two draws. A 3-0 win over Atlantic City FC in the playoffs earned Motown its fifth straight conference title and a spot in the East Region Playoffs.
The NPSL award the first eight priority spots for the following year’s US Open Cup to national quarterfinalists. That meant Motown’s 4-2 win over Hartford City FC in the East Region Semifinal essentially locked them into the Open Cup. Motown went on to lose to West Chester United SC in the East final.
Motown will look to bring back multiple members of its 2023 NPSL squad for the US Open Cup in March. However, a couple of absences are already confirmed. Several players competed with other clubs during this fall’s 2024 US Open Cup Qualifying tournament, and are now cup-tied to those eliminated teams. The players include former Houston Dynamo FC SuperDraft pick Joe Holland, who played for the New York Pancyprian-Freedoms, and forward Rodrigo Descalzo Rocca, who played with NY Renegades FC.
(Side Note: The qualifying match between the Freedoms and Renegades ended in controversy in which a player allegedly threatened to stab the referee.)
Notably, the team is still without a head coach. Gideon Baah, famous for scoring the seventh goal in the Red Wedding, stepped down after two seasons this past August. Under his tenure, Baah coached Motown to their first national title in 2022.
A couple of wins from making history
On Wednesday it was confirmed that the nine US-based MLS clubs competing in the 2024 Champions Cup will enter next year’s Open Cup in the Round of 32.
That means both New York MLS teams will almost certainly enter the competition in the Third Round, which will be held April 16–17. Either the Hammers or Motown will likely need to beat at least one professional team to reach the Third Round.
That could entail a Second Round match against Hartford Athletic, or possibly the debuting Rhode Island FC. There is also a chance the sides could play a team from one of the three leagues from the third division of US Soccer; USL League One, the National Independent Soccer Association, or MLS NEXT Pro (
although reserve teams like NYCFC II can’t participate in the tournament). UPDATE: On Friday, December 15 at 6:01 pm ET, MLS announced that MLS NEXT Pro teams – such as NYCFC II –will participate in the 2024 US Open Cup.
Typically, professional clubs don’t enter the tournament until the second round. But depending on the number of teams participating, there is a chance that the US Soccer Federation will move the entire third division into the first round to ensure enough games.
The tournament might prioritize professional vs amateur matchups, which could lead to some wild pairings considering there’s only one eligible third-division team in the Northeast, namely Maryland Bobcats FC. Additionally, there are rumors that Flower City Union of Rochester, NY will depart the National Independent Soccer Association only a few months after winning the league title. That would take away a potential nearly pro team for either local amateur to face.
However, this isn’t confirmed at this point. The most likely first-round pairing would be FC Motown vs Hudson Valley Hammers. This works geographically and will include teams from different leagues, per US Open Cup policy when deciding match-ups.