FEATURE: What is the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and why is it important?

All fans of American soccer are aware what MLS Cup and the Supporters’ Shield are, representing two of the three most important domestic trophies available every year. However, one trophy is generally overlooked by many – the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

Bearing the name of one of the original founders of MLS, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is the longest running tournament in American soccer. Founded in 1914, the competition is open to professional and amateur clubs alike. In 2018, there are 94 total sides competing, including 20 from MLS.

Following open division local qualifying, lower-level teams, including NPSL, PDL and USL, are added ahead of the first and second rounds. As the competing sides continue to whittle down, all United States-based MLS squads are next to enter ahead of round four.

The competition features a single-elimination format and each team is only allowed to register five international players, giving the tournament a decidedly American feel. Players are also not allowed to compete for two different teams in a single year and are considered cup-tied once they see minutes on the field.

MLS-owned USL teams (think LA Galaxy II, Seattle Sounders FC 2, Portland Timbers 2, etc.) are not allowed to compete. This effectively expands those MLS sides’ rosters because the USL clubs can’t cap-tie any player. Teams such as the San Jose Earthquakes and Houston Dynamo, who utilize hybrid affiliations, aren’t afforded that luxury and must field a squad primarily using players on their active roster.

The winner of the U.S. Open Cup not only gets a historic piece of silverware to add to their trophy case, but also earns qualification to the CONCACAF Champions League. It’s widely regarded as the simplest route for an MLS team to qualify for the international competition, needing only five wins.

San Jose has never won the U.S., but has reached the semifinals twice, including last season following wins over the SF Deltas, Seattle Sounders FC and LA Galaxy.

The Quakes’ Fourth Round match is on the road against the Portland Timbers on Wednesday, June 6. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

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