MLS Agrees to Have 8 Teams Play in US Open Cup

MLS and U.S. Soccer have reached an agreement that will see eight MLS clubs and 11 MLS Next Pro teams compete in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, a tournament across leagues sanctioned by U.S. Soccer.

Last year’s U.S. Open Cup champion Houston Dynamo FC will play in this year’s tournament, along with the top seven available MLS teams in the 2023 MLS Supporters’ Shield standings. Teams playing in the 2024 CONCACAF Champions Cup, a group that includes several high-ranking teams in the Supporters’ Shield race last year, are exempt from playing in the U.S. Open Cup. Notably, Inter Miami CF will not participate even though the Lionel Messi-led team made it to the final last year.

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The 11 participating MLS NEXT Pro teams will include nine MLS affiliates—picked based on 2023 MLS Next Pro final standings—and two independent clubs, Carolina Core FC and Chattanooga FC. Teams are exempt from the U.S. Open Cup if their MLS teams participating in either the 2024 U.S. Open Cup or 2024 CONCACAF Champions Cup.

MLS teams will be seeded to play lower division opponents until it cannot be avoided, enhancing the tournament’s potential for upsets. 

Back in December, the future of the Open Cup—which was first held in 1914—was in doubt. MLS requested to only field teams from MLS Next Pro at the tournament, but the ask was denied by U.S. Soccer.

Both sides told Sportico that they have discussed the issues to better define the league’s participation in the tournament.

Last week USL CEO Paul McDonough expressed disappointment at the U.S. Soccer Federation’s handling of a dispute.

The dispute between MLS and the U.S. Soccer Federation brought negotiations for a broadcasting deal for the tournament to a standstill last month, sources familiar with the matter told Sportico in December.

Now that two sides are aligned on participation, talks with broadcasters—including with U.S. Soccer’s current rights holders Warner Brothers, Telemundo and CBS—are back on, according to a source, who asked to remain anonymous as the matter is private and still ongoing.

This is a developing story and will be updated later.

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